The air force's last combat squadron of 17 old Skyhawks has been shrouded in the military equivalent of cling wrap and parked out in the weather to free hangar space.
The aircraft, which have all been coated with white latex at a cost of $94,000, were yesterday towed out of the Safe Air hangar at Blenheim's Woodbourne air base, where they have been stored for the past five years.
They were moved so Safe Air can start upgrading the air force C-130 Hercules aircraft.
Air force spokesman Glenn Davis said the Skyhawks were parked on the tarmac about 200 metres from the hangar.
Disposal of the Skyhawks has been a headache for the Government since the air combat wing was disbanded in 2002.
It took three years to find a buyer but the deal has been held up since by United States Government red tape.
Under the original sale agreement, the US has to ratify any sale of the aircraft.
Defence Minister Phil Goff said the sale process "remains in play" despite frustrations over the delays.
It has cost the air force more than $8 million to store and maintain the Skyhawks and jet trainers since 2002.
ACT party defence spokeswoman Heather Roy said the planes should be sold to enthusiasts rather than parked.
"The sale is pretty much doomed and a much better option would be to sell them off to collectors."
The Skyhawks were now worth virtually nothing.
Former Skyhawk avionics technician Don Simms said: "This is the final nail in the coffin – they'll never fly again. They're absolutely stuffed."
He estimated it would take $2million to $3 million per aircraft to get them flying again, more than they were worth.
- The Dominion Post