True warbird survivor for Wanaka airshow
This DC-3 has spent a good part of its flying in the tropics, both as an RNZAF transport and in latter days as seen over the western end of Tongatapu.
Representing some unique New Zealand and South Pacific aviation history is a DC-3 that is the only surviving RNZAF WWII veteran aircraft still operating today in regular service.
Built in early 1945 as a C-47B-30-DK, c/n 33135, USAAF 44-76803 at Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, it was handed over to a delivery crew on 21 April and ferried to Rukuhia, Hamilton, to become Dakota NZ3543 with 41 Squadron RNZAF.
In the Pacific region the transport was used immediately postwar for ferrying servicemen home to New Zealand and later supply dropping out of Singapore during the Malayan Emergency. In 1952 it was handed over at Whenuapai to New Zealand National Airways Corporation, entering scheduled airline passenger service as DC-3C ZK-AWP on 2 April 1953, clocking up 10hr 20min on the first day.
The DC-3 was later fitted with NAC’s Skyliner conversion, complete with larger windows, and remained one of the last in the fleet. In February 1970 it was leased to Polynesian Airlines in Western Samoa as 5W-FAI but reverted to ZK-AWP when the lease expired three years later.
Its next role was aerial topdressing, with a large hopper in the cabin, holes in the fuselage for superphosphate to flow in and out, and windows covered over. At first based at Queenstown with Southern Air Super, it was bought in 1975 by Fieldair and relocated to the North Island’s East Coast.
In this role it completed 6722 hours of strenuous flying until retirement from agricultural flying in May 1985. Its fourth role was that of a freighter, with a new floor and some windows reinstalled, after which it reverted to function number two, back to passenger configuration and leased by the short-lived Wellington-based Classic Air which aimed to capture the overseas tourist dollar on charter passenger work.
Rob Mackley, whose father Bill had flown the workhorse in both RNZAF and NAC days, then saved it from immediate overseas departure and later sold it to NZ Aerial Mapping (Historic Flight) which refurbished the DC-3 and repainted it in its old NAC Skyliner scheme.
Without a specific use, however, it was placed on the international market in 2000 with some 46,000 flying hours in its numerous logbooks.
It joined the team at Wigram-based Pionair Adventures on charter work and spent many happy hours flying tours around New Zealand and Australia. In June 2002, while attempting to take off in deep snow at Mt Cook’s Glentanner Station, the DC-3 skidded off the runway and was substantially damaged. It was repaired by Fieldair staff on site to enable a ferry flight to Palmerston North where it was fully repaired and renamed Lucille.
In October 2003 Pionair’s Tim Scott worked up a contract with Tonga’s Shoraeline Group to run Peau Vava’u, that country’s domestic airline service. On 2 June 2004 ZK-AWP left Christchurch equipped with long range fuel tanks and 7.5hr later landed at Fua’amotou, Kingdom of Tonga, to work scheduled passenger services along with its sister ship ZK-AMY. Pionair progressively withdrew its administration of the operation — and DC-3 ZK-AMY — leaving Peau Vava’u to obtain its own operating certificate, and ZK-AWP became locally registered A3-AWP.
In 2006 a riot broke out in the Tongan capital of Nuku’alofa and widespread areas of the Tongan capital CBD were destroyed by fire and looters, including the head office of Peau Vava’u. Amid fears that AWP would be destroyed by the angry mob, it was locked away in its hangar and stayed safely thus for the next three years, gathering dust and cobwebs.
The hangar and its rare contents were later purchased by Craig Emeny, whose Air Chathams had been invited to set up yet another Tongan domestic airline, and major work was undertaken to return the DC-3 to airworthiness.
In 2010 A3-AWP began flying scheduled passenger services again for the Air Chathams subsidiary, Chathams Pacific. In this role it served the Tongan people reliably and safely until Chathams Pacific voluntarily concluded operations in March 2013, having flown scheduled services to the island groups of Vava’u and particularly Ha’apai, flying a programme exceeding 100hr a month in the busy season.
It was then flown home to New Zealand in December 2013 via Fiji, New Caledonia and Norfolk Island, arriving at Auckland some 20.1 flying hours later.
Now 69 years after emerging from the Oklahoma factory, it remains in commercial service and represents a most important part of New Zealand aviation history — the last flying example of the RNZAF C-47 fleet, the last flying example of the NAC DC-3 fleet and the last flying example of the Fieldair fleet.
ZK-AWP will be available for rides at the Warbirds Over Wanaka airshow.
- Report and photograph supplied.
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