Wanaka airshow's DC3 has seen a lot of history

01:35, Feb 11 2014

A piece of unrivalled aviation history is back in New Zealand – a 69-year-old Douglas DC3 still flying commercially.

ZK-AWP, which will fly at Easter's Warbirds Over Wanaka Airshow, is the last flying example of a Royal New Zealand Air Force DC3, the last flying National Airways Corporation (NAC) plane and the last flying example of a Fieldair top-dressing plane.

And along the way it has had adventures.

Warbird organisers say the plane was built in 945 in the United States and left for New Zealand the day the Soviet Union seized Berlin.

It was assigned to 41 Squadron RNZAF until 1952 and its duties included flying servicemen home from the war.

It became an NAC passenger plane in 1953 flying domestically, before being used to service Samoa, then a New Zealand colony.

In 1973 it became a top-dressing plane, dumping superphosphate across farm land.

In 2000 it was sold to Pionair Adventures for charter work around Australia and New Zealand.

In June 2002 while attempting to take off in deep snow at Mt Cook the aircraft skidded off the runway and was substantially damaged.

Then in 2004 the then Crown Prince Tupuoto'a of Tonga (later the late King George V) chartered it to set up a domestic airline in the kingdom.

His Shoreline company, which owned the airline, was deeply unpopular.

When riots broke out in 2006 in Nuku'alofa, Tupuoto'a properties were targeted.

Eight rioters died when the Shoreline headquarters were destroyed.

Fearing an attack on the DC3, it was locked in a hangar – and spent the next three years in it.

Air Chathams then bought it and restored it to air worthiness.

In 2010 it began flying scheduled passenger services again for the wholly owned Air Chathams subsidiary, Chathams Pacific. That operation was closed last year when the Chinese Government gave Tonga several aircraft.

The aircraft was then flown back to New Zealand in December.

“Now 69 years later, it remains in commercial service and represents a very important part of Kiwi history,” Warbirds say.