Majestic Orion Takes Aircraft Of The Year Title For 2023
The Lockheed P-3K2 Orion is the winner of the Air Force Museum of New Zealand’s inaugural Aircraft of the Year competition.
The national museum and the birthplace of the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) in Christchurch asked Kiwis to vote for their favourite aircraft from among the museum’s collection of 33 historic aircraft in a poll which opened on November 9.
The P-3K2 Orion – which recently retired from the RNZAF after more than 50 years’ service – shot out to an early lead and held off a late charge from the McDonnell Douglas Skyhawk, which finished up in second place.
The Orion finished with 19% of the votes cast, the Skyhawk was close behind with 17%.
The Bell UH-1H Iroquois helicopter came in third (15%), and the Supermarine Spitfire (6%) finished fifth. The North American Mustang, Hawker Siddeley Andover, Bristol Freighter, de Havilland Vampire, Curtiss Kittyhawk and Douglas C-47B Dakota rounded out the top 10.
While Forest & Bird’s recent Bird of the Century vote was hijacked by overseas agents, Museum Director Brett Marshall confirmed there had been no sign of foreign interference in the voting and the Orion was a legitimate winner.
“There were a lot of heated debates but no funny stuff – it was a clean result,’’ Mr Marshall said.
“We were surprised the Orion took a big lead from the start, but it shows the depth of feeling there is in New Zealand about the aircraft.
“Our fleet of Orions stood guard over our shores for more than 50 years, they saved countless lives and flew thousands of missions, and they were a familiar sight in the air to so many. The Iroquois retired 10 years ago and is still much loved, and its placing shows it still has a huge following among Kiwis.’’
Group Captain (retired) Rick Bulger is an avid Orion fan and said the win came as no surprise.
He was co-pilot on NZ4203’s delivery flight to New Zealand back in 1966 and he flew the RNZAF aircraft for 21 years.
“Not only was it a beautiful aircraft to fly it was exceptionally good at its job for more than 50 years,’’ Mr Bulger said.
“There was never any real competition - although the Iroquois is exceptional as well.’’
Mr Marshall said the aim of Aircraft of the Year was to remind New Zealanders about the important role these aircraft – and the personnel who flew and looked after them – have played in our history.
“We’ve had a lot of interest in the competition, and it has sparked a lot of debate. We’d remind everyone in New Zealand that these are their aircraft, and they are free to see, so they are welcome to come and have a look.’’
The museum’s collection includes some of the world’s rarest aircraft.
These include a Vickers Vildebeest – the last of its type in the world – and an Avro 626 – which were among the first aircraft in service when the RNZAF was formed in 1937. Both flew from Wigram, where the museum is based.
The museum is also home to NZ5903 – a Bristol Freighter that helped evacuate the last of New Zealand’s troops out of Saigon in Vietnam in 1975.
The collection includes the Douglas C-47B Dakota her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II flew aboard in 1953.
The museum’s Orion is a national hero, with NZ4203 flying more than 27,000 hours during its illustrious 54-year career.
It took part in hundreds of missions including search and rescue operations, anti-submarine patrols and spent thousands of hours protecting New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone.
NZ4203 arrived at the museum on 29 September following a 455km road trip from RNZAF Base Woodbourne to its final home in the Christchurch. It is currently in storage until a space large enough to house it can be built.
ABOUT THE AIR FORCE MUSEUM: The Air Force Museum of New Zealand is a world class heritage operation with more than 30 aircraft and more than 1 million artefacts in its collection. The Christchurch museum attracts more than 150,000 visitors each year and is free to the public.
It includes a memorial to the more than 4,600 Kiwis who have died while serving with the RNZAF or other air forces since 1915.