THE AIR force celebrated 75 years of service by women this week and over 160 airwomen, past and present, including veterans who served during WWII gathered at Ohakea airbase over the weekend.

Wing Commander Carol Abraham said there were some inspiring speakers at the gathering including 102-year-old WWII veteran Evelyn Hutchins.

"For those of us serving now, it was so inspiring to hear these women and realise what trailblazers they were.

The women's auxiliary air force was formed in response to manpower shortages caused by WWII. Following the war, that organisation became the Women's Royal New Zealand Air Force before women were fully integrated under the banner of the Royal New Zealand Air Force in 1977.


Acting chief of air force, Air Commodore Tony Davies said the air force is proud to celebrate 75 years of service by women and to recognise the thousands of "dedicated, courageous and clever airwomen".

"The accomplishments of women have contributed greatly to the high regard in which the air force is held today, and we are very proud of their dedicated service to New Zealand both at home and abroad," he said.

During the celebration, the veteran women had the opportunity to inspect the air force's new and upgraded aircraft and facilities, while mingling with the current generation of airwomen.

Whanganui woman Mandy Fowler was a sergeant at Ohakea from 1970 until 1976 and said it was very much a man's world.

"There were very limited options for women in the air force in those days and we didn't even get equal pay back then.

"I worked as a publications specialist with another woman and a man who got paid more than we did and I think we did the job better."

Ms Fowler said it was interesting to visit her old workplace and meet the young women who now hold senior positions in the air force. "It has changed so much and women can achieve very high rankings now."

Women are now integrated in to every trade and element of the NZ Air Force and Air Commodore Davies said it is very pleasing to see more women holding command positions as wing commanders and warrant officers.

Wing Commander Carol Abraham is serving in a liaison role based in Canberra, Australia for two years.

"We encourage women to consider a career in the air force and we understand that it takes a certain amount of bravery to approach the idea.

"For women who have never had family or known anyone in the defence forces, it can be a daunting prospect, but we encourage them to come and have a look because there is a great range of options."

The weekend celebrations led in to the air force's biennial Women's Development Forum and the observance of International Women's Day on Tuesday.

"It has been a real pleasure to recognise the veteran airwomen and show them the modern air force, as they have shared their stories and experiences with us," said Air Commodore Davies.

He said it was a fitting way to lead into the forum and the observance of an international day of recognition for women.