The last surviving members of New Zealand's original Special Air Service squadron took to the skies over Tauranga in a DC-3 warbird this morning.

The special flight was to mark 65 years since the NZ SAS first fought communist terrorists in the Malayan jungle.

The NZ SAS is a special forces unit of the New Zealand Army and has always been highly regarded as an elite military group.

Only 28 members of the original 132-strong squad are still alive and many of them attended today's reunion.

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"We're all aged in our late 80s and early 90s now so who knows if we will ever have another one?" Tauranga resident and reunion organiser, David Ogilvy said.

"Reunions allow veterans to re-forge that unbreakable bond, re-kindle past friendships and heal from past experiences together. This is probably our last opportunity to get together and reminisce."

The DC-3 scenic flight, operated by Air Chathams, is bound to invoke strong memories for the former soldiers, some of whom used to parachute out of similar aircraft from that era.

The last surviving members of the original NZ SAS squad board the aircraft. Photo / George Novak
The last surviving members of the original NZ SAS squad board the aircraft. Photo / George Novak

Air Chathams Ltd Airline commercial manager Adrian Ali confirmed the classic plane was once under the command of the Royal New Zealand Air Force and was subsequently used as a passenger plane for the National Airways Corporation.

"It will be a privilege for us to carry these valuable military servicemen on Saturday so they can once again experience the type of aircraft they worked with during their yesteryear," Ali said.

Air Chathams now fly regular scenic flights from the Classic Flyers Museum at Tauranga Airport during the summer months and at selected events and air shows around New Zealand.

A Givealittle page was launched late last year to help fund today's reunion. Grants were also received from 14 RSAs throughout New Zealand as well as BayTrust, NZ Community Trust (NZCT), Pub Charity Ltd, Hugo Charitable Trust, Malayan/Vietnam Vets, Lotteries and Veterans Affairs.

In addition to the DC-3 flight, the men will also enjoy riding in vintage cars from the BOP Vintage Car club, watch a parachuting demonstration, and will gather for a dinner celebration on Saturday evening where the current Commanding Officer and Regimental Major from the NZ SAS will speak.

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"We are most grateful to everyone who has helped bring our squadron together this weekend," Ogilvy said.

"Our group of fellows were a highly trained, well-skilled, well-officered group. So to get together is still a very significant occasion."

When NZ SAS recruits were first called for, more than 800 applicants were received which were whittled down to 180 for training at Waiouru.

Criteria for selection included being under 6ft (1.8m tall), weighing no more than 14 stone (88.9kg), having their own teeth, no criminal record, preferably single and having to pass a high intelligence threshold.

The last surviving members of New Zealand's original Special Air Service (SAS) squadron got to ride in a DC-3 warbird. Photo / George Novak
The last surviving members of New Zealand's original Special Air Service (SAS) squadron got to ride in a DC-3 warbird. Photo / George Novak

A further 50 soldiers were culled before the final squadron were sent to join the British 22nd SAS regiment in Kuala Lumper in October 1955.

For the next two years, the unit completed a series of three-month-long deep jungle operations against communist terrorists.

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It was the beginning of a long legacy which continues today.

The NZSAS are highly regarded as the premier combat unit of the New Zealand Defence Force and has been operationally deployed all over the Pacific region, Afghanistan and throughout South-East Asia.