Topped Gun

Requiem for the Skyhawk

Excerpt from Chapter 8

Number 2 Squadron was despatched to Nowra in February 1991 with six aircraft, more than 50 personnel and over 60 dependents. It was under the new command of Steve Moore and initially embarked on an 800 hours per year flying commitment, having agreed to have a minimum of four aircraft available at anyone time. The cost of the flying was split half and half between the two countries, with New Zealand paying for the first 400 hours. The base and other facilities were provided at no cost to New Zealand. While in Australia, the squadron still remained responsible for all A-4 conversion training. Ironically, a number of the aircraft operated by 2 Squadron had earlier been based at Nowra when the RAN had owned them. Certainly some of the civilians living close to Nowra still well remembered the earlier A-4 operations from there.

Within a week of the 2 Squadron arrival at Nowra, air attack exercises with the RAN began. Most were initially held along the eastern seaboard of New South Wales. The exercising soon moved west to Perth and north to Darwin as ships of the Australian fleet sailed around as part of various exercises and deployments. It was not uncommon to attack the ships as they set off for other bases, attacking them from Nowra and then, as they went out of range, deploying the A-4s forward and continuing the attacks. The underlying reason that they deployed up the length of the country so much in the opening months was to actively prepare the ships for the Gulf War. The squadron became very practised and efficient at deployment, able to operate within hours of arrival. Whenever the Skyhawks were deployed, there was the usual requirement for transport support and this was provided by RAAF C-130 transports. Deployments from Nowra to Perth would stage via Adelaide, and those to Darwin went via Townsville. In all, over 30 such deployments were made by 2 Squadron.

Excerpt from Chapter 12

It became clear that the best aircraft available was the same one that had emerged when the RNZAF had 10 years earlier been looking for a replacement for the Skyhawk – the General Dynamics F-16 ‘Fighting Falcon’ fighter/bomber. This American-built fighter had in many ways been proven and was used widely by the US and around the world, including by the Singaporeans, Thais and Indonesians. It was not inexpensive but, as if fate had understood the predicament for New Zealand of limited finances, a fleet of 28 ready-built, low-time F-16s had become available for lease from the US Government. Pakistan had ordered and paid for the jets, which had been built but the US then changed its mind because of Pakistan’s nuclear policy and the fighters became parked in desert storage in Arizona. The aircraft, all brand-new save a few delivery flying hours, comprised 13 single-seat A models and 15 two-seat B models. Computer software and hardware upgrades for them, to reach C and D equivalents, were also available, if required. Such upgrading would cost more but consisted of better avionics than earlier C/D models including an improved radar and nav/attack system and better electronic countermeasures. The basic offer was a very attractive operational option because these particular F-16s were lighter than the C/Ds but had a more powerful engine than the standard A/Bs and they therefore had the potential to provide better performance than later F-16s. If New Zealand took them, they would be some of the best performing aircraft in the South-East Asian region.