RNZAF Base Ohakea

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RNZAF Base Ohakea
Ensign of the Royal New Zealand Air Force.svg
Airport type Military
Operator RNZAF
Location Bulls, New Zealand
Elevation AMSL 164 ft / 50 m
Coordinates 40°12′22″S 175°23′16″E / 40.20611°S 175.38778°E / -40.20611; 175.38778Coordinates: 40°12′22″S 175°23′16″E / 40.20611°S 175.38778°E / -40.20611; 175.38778
Direction Length Surface
ft m
09/27 8,021 2,445 Asphalt
09L/27R 1,887 575 Grass
15/33 6,998 2,133 Asphalt

RNZAF Base Ohakea is an operational base of the Royal New Zealand Air Force. Opened in 1939, it located is near Bulls, 25 km north west of Palmerston North in the Manawatu. It is also a diversion landing point for civilian aircraft.

Early days[edit]

An air base was originally proposed in the area in 1927, when Ohakea was selected as the most suitable site for a mooring mast for airships of the British Imperial Airship service.[1] It was proposed to build one mast for a demonstration flight, with the potential for expansion to a full airship base with three masts, airship sheds and hydrogen production. However, there was no point in going ahead with the development of the site without a commitment from the Australian Government to build masts to provide bases in that country. When the Australian Government declined to build masts, the New Zealand Government declined likewise.

1930s development[edit]

In 1935 the Labour government committed to an expansion of the military air service at the expense of the navy, seeing this as a way of reducing the total defence vote. At the end of 1935 the government accepted an air service expansion plan developed by RAF Wing Commander Ralph Cochrane.[2]

The plan called for several new bases, with a major development at Ohakea, which would be home to 30 Wellington bombers on order for the RNZAF. Two large hangars (now hangars 2 and 3) were authorised to house the aircraft, to be designed by the Department of Public Works chief design engineer Charles Turner. Turner decided to build the hangars as monolithic reinforced concrete structures because structural steel could not be obtained in sufficient quantities without delays, while concrete and reinforcing steel could be delivered immediately. The same limitation forced Turner to adopt concrete doors. The arched hangars spanned 61 metres, with a height of 18 metres. The expense of the steel centering was spread across four hangars, as another two similar structures were ordered for Whenuapai air base in Auckland. The two Ohakea hangars were completed in 1939, at a cost of about £76,750 each.

Ultimately, the Wellington bombers for which the hangars were built never arrived, as they were donated to Britain at the start of the Second World War, forming the The New Zealand Squadron. However, the hangars have been in continuous use since their construction, and (re-roofed in steel) remain in use today.[3]

Military service[edit]

During the Second World War, Ohakea was the RNZAF's main training base for operational conversion to fighters, observers/navigators for medium bombers and air gunners. After the war, Nos 14, 42 and 75 Squadrons were re-formed at Ohakea, and No.1 Repair Depot relocated from Hamilton.

Since the end of the war Ohakea has been the RNZAF's strike base, with Nos 14 and 75 Squadrons resident. A long-time resident, No 42 Squadron relocated to Whenuapai in 1984 to allow the relocation of No 2 Squadron to HMAS Albatross, Nowra, Australia in 1991. In 1993, RNZAF flying training previously carried out at Wigram by the Pilot Training Squadron and the Central Flying School RNZAF moved to Ohakea. Also in 1993 a new aviation wing of the Royal New Zealand Air Force Museum was opened at Ohakea. Nos 14 and 75 Squadrons disbanded in November 2001, and No 42 Squadron relocated back to Ohakea in January 2002. There are currently around 650 personnel based at Ohakea.[citation needed]

A plan to consolidate all RNZAF operations at Ohakea was abandoned in March 2009 as part of a change of policy on the part of the incoming National Government who chose to retain two operational air bases, Ohakea and Whenuapai, for use by the RNZAF.[4]

No. 14 Squadron RNZAF is to reform in 2015 to take up the initial pilot training role with the new T-6C Texan IIs. This will mean the disbandment of Pilot Training Squadron.

14 Squadron Vampire on permanent gate duty at Ohakea.

Stationed units[edit]

Civilian functions[edit]

Ohakea is a secondary diversion airport for heavy civilian aircraft such as the Boeing 747 and Boeing 777 if both Auckland and Christchurch airports are temporarily closed. Ohakea does not have the facilities to process that number of passengers, so the aircraft must wait for either Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch airports to reopen.

Ohakea has been the subject of a feasibility study into mixed-use military and civilian freight capability, which has included lengthening the main runway to accommodate the Boeing 747.[6]


  1. ^ Re: airship base
  2. ^ Wright, Matthew, Kiwi Air Power: the History of the RNZAF, Raupo Publishing (NZ) Ltd, 1998, ISBN 0-7900-0625-1, pp 25-29 ]
  3. ^ Wright, Matthew, New Zealand’s Engineering Heritage 1870 - 2000, Reed Books (Auckland) Ltd, 1999, ISBN 0-7900-0690-1, pp 89-91]
  4. ^ http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA0903/S00450.htm
  5. ^ Webb, Darryn (December 2013). "488 Wing". Air Force News. pp. 12–13. Retrieved 25 January 2014. 
  6. ^ [1]

External links[edit]