Stuart Whitaker is the chief reporter of the Te Puke Times and a general reporter for Bay of Plenty Times.

75 Squadron marks a century since its formation

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Stewart Boys (left) and Alan Reynolds are the local organisers of this weekend's 75 Squadron RAF/RNZAF Association of New Zealand reunion that marks the 100th anniversary of the squadron's formation. Photo / Andrew Warner
Stewart Boys (left) and Alan Reynolds are the local organisers of this weekend's 75 Squadron RAF/RNZAF Association of New Zealand reunion that marks the 100th anniversary of the squadron's formation. Photo / Andrew Warner

Exactly 100 years today No 75 Squadron Royal Flying Corps (later RAF) was formed in Britain.

The squadron was to have close links with New Zealand from World War II onwards and this weekend the 75 Squadron RAF/RNZAF Association of New Zealand is holding a commemorative reunion in Tauranga.

The event will include a formal dinner, a meet and greet, tours of Tauranga and a commemorative service. Around 200 people are expected to attend.

The squadron was disbanded along with squadrons 2 and 14, the RNZAF Air Combat Force, in December 2001. One of the Skyhawks mothballed as a result was brought to Classic Flyers aviation museum in May 2012.

Reunion organising committee member Alan Reynolds was posted to the squadron on three separate occasions, an armourer in the ground crew working on the Skyhawks.

''The first (posting) was in 1970 after I came back with the 14 Squadron and the Canberras from their last overseas deployment in Singapore and Hong Kong,'' he said.

''After we got back I found I was posted to 75 squadron because the Skyhawks had arrived while we were away.''

He spent several weeks training on the new aircraft.

''Then we went to put our knowledge on the line for a while and then I was posted off but a few years later I was posted back again.''

As an armourer he worked on everything on the planes that had explosives associated with it. That meant as well as the weaponry, the ejector seat, parachute and survival kits.

''I did things like harmonised the guns, fitted missiles, bombs and rockets and tested the armament circuits.''

The Skyhawks were regularly sent on overseas deployment, and the ground crew went with them.

''There were usually two or three deployments a year - to Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, passing through Indonesia, the Philippines at Clark Airbase with the US Air Force and the squadron was deployed to Hawaii for a RIMPAC (Rim of the Pacific) exercise.''

Mr Reynolds said he loved working on the planes.

''I enjoyed every minute of it, the guys you work with, the camaraderie and the aircraft was reasonably nice to work on. You had a few awkward things, but it was brilliant. The whole squadron atmosphere was something that people who hadn't worked there wouldn't.''

While he was no longer with the NZRAF when the Air Combat Force was disbanded, it is still something that makes him and many of his colleagues angry.

''We hold some deep feelings about that.''

When Classic Flyers acquired one of the Skyhawks, Mr Reynolds saw an opportunity to once again work on the aircraft.

''I thought, 'I can do something here', so I volunteered to come in once or twice a week to work on it and keep it up to scratch.''

The Skyhawk has no engine, no hydraulics or avionics.

''It's a bare shell, but I have managed to acquire some things to put on it - bombs and rockets - but they aren't live.''

Air commodore Stewart Boys (retired), a former 75 Squadron Commanding Officer is also part of the local organising committee.

''It's good to meet all the people again, It's a real reunion in a sense that we all pretty well know each other.''

Mr Boys was among the first New Zealand pilots to train in the Skyhawks when the arrived in New Zealand and then had a training role in Skyhawks, Harvards and Vampires. In all he flew around 1000 hours in Skyhawks.

75 Squadron timeline
• No 75 Squadron was formed in 1916 as a home defence fighter unit, but disbanded in June 1919 following the end of World War I.
• The squadron reformed in March 1937 as part of RAF expansion.
• No 75 Squadron was equipped by the New Zealand Government which had bought 30 Wellington bombers, and was largely manned by New Zealanders, officially became a New Zealand squadron of the RAF in April 1940.
• In 1946 the squadron number, colours and battle honours were transferred to the RNZAF. The squadron reformed at RNZAF Base Ohakea and was initially equipped with twin-engine de Havilland Mosquito fighter-bombers. It operated de Havilland Vampires from 1951 to 1970 before the purchase of the McDonnell Douglas A-4 Skyhawks.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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