Skyhawks to taste formation flight once again

Last updated 05:00 17/02/2013

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It is not quite a steal but the man who purchased New Zealand's grounded Skyhawk fighter aircraft has discovered he got a bargain.

Eight A-4K Skyhawks that sat in plastic cocoons at Woodbourne since 2001 will next month return to the air in formation over Florida in the United States.

Draken International, which provides military training, last year picked up the Skyhawks for $7.9 million and has found the planes are in superb condition. They've got years of life left in their airframes and the radar and electronics aboard are among the best in the world.

Chief executive Jared Isaacman was downplaying the idea he got the better side of the deal.

"I don't think I would use the word bargain to describe the purchase of these aircraft," he said. "The New Zealand A-4K Skyhawks are the finest aircraft of their type ever built." But they had "little military value left", he said.

Draken had to pay the shipping and create engine maintenance contracts with Safe Air and Fieldair in New Zealand.

"I would say it would be a fair deal for all parties involved."

Isaacman broke into his honeymoon last year to secure the deal, which includes the Skyhawks and nine RNZAF Aermacchi trainers that were mothballed by Prime Minister Helen Clark in 2001.

It has cost the taxpayer $37.4 million to maintain them since.

Isaacman said when they got the aircraft late last year they were virtually ready to fly once the plastic wrapping was removed.

The aircraft will return to the sky at Draken's Lakeland base, about an hour and a half west of Cape Canaveral and remain in RNZAF livery.

Just before Clark scrapped the aircraft they were extensively refitted with sophisticated electronics, including radar usually found in F-16s, and standard Nato air-to-air refuelling equipment.

Isaacman's deal also includes 20 spare engines and an extensive inventory of spare parts, publications, life support equipment and avionics sufficient to power the fleet for decades to come.

The Skyhawk squadron never saw combat, other than in 1976 when one shot 20mm cannon rounds across the bow of a Taiwanese fishing boat.

That aircraft is now in Auckland's Museum of Transport and Technology.

Others have gone to the Air Force Museum in Christchurch, Ardmore's Warbirds Visitors Centre, Tauranga's Classic Flyers, George Hood Aviation Museum in Masterton, Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre in Blenheim, Ashburton Aviation Museum, Croydon Aviation Heritage Trust in Southland, Warbirds and Wheels in Wanaka and the Royal Australian Navy Fleet Air Museum in Nowra.

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- Sunday Star Times

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