The RNZAF's 50th Anniversary
Golden Skyhawk
A brief history...


NZ6256 - The Anniversary Skyhawk


To mark the 50th Anniversary of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, a series of airshows were held around the country, and to represent the RNZAF as a sort of flagship for the anniversary year it was decided that one of the two-seat McDonnell Douglas TA-4K Skyhawks would be given a very special colour scheme. 

NZ6256 was one of 24 Skyhawks operated by the RNZAF between 1970 and 2001, and this particular aircraft was a two seater that was purchased second-hand from the Royal Australian Navy in 1984. Originally a TA-4G, upon arrival in New Zealand it was converted to a TA-4K model, and joined No. 2 Squadron at Ohakea in 1985. It was the last Skyhawk wearing the old adapted RAN grey colour scheme and was chosen to become the gold machine as it was due to be repainted into the RNZAF's light green, dark green and grey camouflage. So the gold was worn in the interim.

Skyhawk NZ6256 was rolled-out of the RNZAF Base Ohakea paintshop on the 14th of December 1986 resplendent in its gold scheme with the and red, white and blue stripes.

On the 1st and 2nd of April 1987 there were 50th anniversary flights made by the RNZAF over much of the country, including a diamond nine formation of Skyhawks over RNZAF Base Wigram on the 1st, while NZ6256 was on the ground at Wigram for the crowd to admire.

On Saturday, the 4th of April, a remarkable formation of 18 Skyhawks, four Strikemasters, four F-18s and four Mirages flew over during the Ohakea airshow (including the gold Skyhawk). Every currently qualified Skyhawk pilot was involved.

Equally remarkable was the formation comprising a P-51D Mustang, a Mirage IIIO and an F-18 Hornet of the RAAF and two Skyhawks; a standard camouflaged model and the golden TA-4K. Ohakea's Skyhawks contributed to both the static and flying programme the following week-end at Whenuapai.

Special thanks for their assistance in compiling this page go to Glen Turner, Don Simms, Steve Jenks, Sam Hall, Craig Sargent, Brian Purdire, Evan Allen and Andy Scott.


Credits for the 50th Anniversary Skyhawk

Design Team

Flight Sergeant Brian Purdie (RNZAF S&S)
Corporal Derek "Coops" Cooper
Aircraftman Glen Turner (RNZAF Armourer)
Mr Steve Jenks (Graphic Artist)

Paint Team
(The Safety and Surface Team, RNZAF Ohakea)

Flight Sergeant Brian Purdie
Sergeant Barry Cochran
Corporal Steve 'Sid' Kendall
Corporal Evan Allen
LAC Michael Beresford
LAC (W) Sarah Hinds
LAC Steve Leech
LAC Brenton Wilson
AC Rehi 'Red' Sullivan
General Service Hand Neil Hefferon

Test Pilot

Squadron Leader Jim Jennings

Display Pilot

Flight Lieutenant Glenn Todd


Painting the 50th Anniversary Scheme


A couple of the team who were involved in creating this very special Skyhawk colour scheme, Brian Purdie, Glen Turner, Steve Jenks and Evan Allen, have kindly offered their memories and photographs here to show the work involved.

The Design
F/Sgt Brian Purdie came up with the initial idea.He recalls, "The design team was firstly me, as the ideas man, I had seen a USAF article in a military magazine on how they had painted a plane to celebrate an anniversary. Then when my Squadron Leader was not keen and thought it was a crazy idea and “they” would not go for that. I took the idea to No. 2 Squadron boss Jim Jennings, and between the 2 Sqn S&S resident Cpl Derek Cooper, we progressed the idea. Jim Jennings did the official work and got permission for us to proceed."

Glen Turner explains his involvement, "I spent twelve months on No. 2 Squadron after finishing Armament Mech's Course, from early 1986. NZ6256 was the only TA-4G that arrived in the grey paint scheme, and I was asked by the Corporal Safety and Surface chap at the time to draw up some designs for the commemorative aircraft. I put in three main designs, and basically all three designs ended up on the aircraft. What was eventually put on the aircraft seemed to be a mix of my designs. Of course I received no acknowledgement of the designs, since I didn't give them to a senior person!! I did get the plans back some years later. I have those drawings somewhere in my many boxes in the garage. It was known as the B+H (Benson + Hedges) scheme. A paint company donated the paint I think."

Steve Jenks explains his involvement, "I became involved through my father, then a Wing Commander in the RNZAF, who offered my services as a graphic designer to the crew in charge of creating the scheme. Run by Flight Sergeant Purdie if I remember correctly (my apologies if my memory is putting me wrong on the name - it was a long time ago!). I'm not sure there was ever a FULL 'plan' for this scheme. I was involved with some of the fine tuning of the design and some of the solutions that ended up on the final scheme were very unlikely to have made it onto a plan as some were only really decided when the scheme was already half completed!"

"I first came in on the project in November 1986, Steve says. "I guess at this point a plan may have been drawn up, but for a one-off I wonder if there was any point. I certainly didn't see any plans at the time. At that stage most the overall design work had been done and I was just assisting with tidying up and coming up with a couple of solutions for the areas that hadn't been worked out. The gold and basic striping idea was already established at that point. Some of the discarded options for the colour scheme sounded quite interesting and I wish I had been able to see them. Supposedly one consisted of an all black aircraft with Maori motifs on it!"

Steve continues, "Amongst my contributions were adding the scroll under the cockpit with the commemorative dates to get around fitting in all the necessary information on the airframe tidily, the way the stripes terminated with the broken lines, plus adding stripes to the tanks. The rest of the details, like the southern cross stars on the fin, how the stripe turned to go up the fin and the like we discussed and agreed on at the time too."

The Trial Stripes Paint Scheme
In order to see if the design on paper worked equally as well on the actual aircraft, it was decided to test the concept out before the Skyhawk was paint stripped. The stripes were tried on the grey NZ6256, hand painted on one side only, and flown so those on the ground could judge the effectiveness. This was the first time the RNZAF had attempted something like this so they wanted to get it right.

Steve Jenks says, "I know that the basic striping was designed and roughly painted on to the airframe when it was still in the original Aussie grey colours. It was flown at least once in this temporary scheme to assess how it looked when displayed."

Brian Purdie adds, "Derek [Cooper] and myself did the initial trial in the grey ’56 as pictured, Jim flew the ‘jet’ a few times to see what the visual effect would be like, we added a bit here and there to enhance the striping and then we went firm on the results. This trial was painted on one side only using good old Dulux Enamel paint and 4” brushes. After a while the official go-ahead was given and the rest is as recorded. I was the SNCO i/c Aircraft Finishing at the time."


The Skyhawk is now ready for the test flights. Note by this time the back-to-front
RNZAF roundel had been removed


The Commanding Officer of No. 2 Squadron, Squadron Leader Jim Jennings, flew the test scheme flights. Glen says, "Sqn Ldr Jim Jennings flew it low and slow past with several fly bys to see if it worked. We took film and photos from on top of the No. 14 Squadron hangar (before they put the longrun roofing on)." 

Above and below are some shots of the aircraft in the trial scheme 


Stripping the Paint
Glen Turner took these two photos of the Skyhawk being prepared for the repaint:

Before the aircraft was paint stripped for the overall repaint, the painters had
a bit of fun with some graffiti.

The aircraft now stripped of paint, being prepared for the gold paint

The Gold Paint Application
Brian Purdie recalls, "The “paint” was supplied by Lusteroid NZ and was in the form of Gold powder, which we combined with clear lacquer and it was a typical automotive scheme."

Evan Allen recalls, "The Friday we started painting the gold on was a very, very long day and there were plenty of beers consumed by the paint team that evening. The decision to go ahead only arrived at midday Friday, so we went until the late evening, then on over the weekend and the following week. Once it was rolled out the CAS visited and was so impressed he told the 2 Sqn C.O. to make sure the first back seat rides went to the paint team members - in normal Air Force fashion none of that happened."

Steve Jenks says, "When I returned in early December 1986 the aircraft was already all-over gold and the basic striping shapes were being masked out. There were full size painted paper copies of the roundels, stripes, etc., tacked to the airframe to assess positions and sizes. It was a real honour to have helped out with my small part in the project and full credit to F/Sgt Purdie and the team that did it. I was amazed the way the guys could mask the curves of the stripes and roundels etc pretty much freehand. Their skill was very impressive."

"I took a few pics of the aircraft as it was progressing and still have a full size piece of the test stripe end that was painted on paper and tacked to the aircraft while we were checking to see how it worked." 

The aircraft has been stripped here, and is wearing new primer, and various markings are being applied to see what they would look like, before the final decision was made. Note the lettering RNZAF above the roundel, and that the kiwi has been applied facing backwards! In fact Evan Allen, who was on the paint team, says the roundel was, "a coloured cardboard copy taped on for effect."
Photo: Glen Turner

Photo: Steve Jenks

Note the roundel is still pointing backwards! Photo: Steve Jenks

Repainting the roundel, and the white stripe is being appiled here. Photo: Steve Jenks

Glen Turner also took a series of photos as NZ6256 was being painted. He says, "I took almost daily pics of it being painted in the paintshop." The following paint shop photos are his shots: 

Above and below: Applying the red stripe







RNZAF Skyhawk expert and ex-RNZAF Avionics Technician Don Simms states, "Another small detail I have noticed is prior to going into the paint shop it had the original "G" rounded fin tip. After it came out it had the "K" squared off fin tip. This was part of the G to K conversion - fitting a new IFF system (APX-72), including a new antenna on the fin tip. The rest of the G to K conversion already appears to have been done, (fitting of drag chute and new radio antenna behind the cockpit) before the gold paint job."

The RNZAF Safety and Surface team who painted the Skyhawk.. Standing, Left to Right: Sgt Barry Cochran, AC Rehi "Red" Sullivan, LAC Brenton Wilson, LAC Steve Leech, F/Sgt Brian Purdie. Kneeling, Left to Right: Cpl Evan Allen, LAC Dave Beresford, Cpl Sid Kendall, LAC (W) Sarah Hinds, GSH Neil Hefferon. Air Force Museum of New Zealand Official Photo


Roll Out - The Finished Gold Skyhawk
Glen says, "And then I was the mug that towed it out of the paintshop for photos, with one of the chaps riding brakes in the back seat as there was no seat fitted in the front! The aircraft still had to have ailerons and seats etc fitted."

Air Force Museum of New Zealand Official Photo

"After the aircraft was re-rigged," Glen continues, "the Commanding Officer of No. 2 Squadron, Sqn Ldr Jim Jennings took her up for the test flight. .Jennings did most of the flying I recall. He asked me several days after the test flying was done if I had had my medical and my camera at the ready... alas no ... that day he went up and they took the photo of the aircraft going straight up that was on all the posters."

Here is the RNZAF Official photo taken on that sortie on the 17th of December 1986,
which was to become famous on posters and flyers, and the cover of New Zealand Wings
magazine for April 1987, and the programme brochures for all three RNZAF Anniversary airshows

Glen Turner says, "The next day I was ready medical done, camera at ready, kitted out by Coops waiting for Jennings and I got the first ride in the back seat as a Gold aircraft. We stooged around Raumai getting footage from NZ6255 with a Photographer in it's back seat filming with a National Film Unit camera. They had another camera situated half way along the runway, and Jennings was cleared to make a run as low and as fast as he could down the runway. First time I have heard Air Traffic Control give permission for as fast and as low as she'll go!!! We started out over Feilding for that one.... that clip featured in the video of the Anniversary, I recall...."

Above: Some early morning foggy shots by Glen Turner.
Below, a couple of shots taken by Steve Jenks.


Glen gives a few details of how this aircraft was basically withdrawn from normal service for several months for this special duty as the Anniversary Skyhawk, "The aircraft was only operated by No. 2 Squadron. I cannot recall us using her for weapons sorties. Generally when training the new pilots on weapons it was usually guns, bombs (HE+Prac), rockets. There was no guns fitted, and guns and rockets would have been very dirty to the paintwork anyway, so this may have been a no goer. She was a showbird first off - we walked on the skin with covered shoes! Initially we wore booties on our feet whenever we had to go on the painted surface, and we used a cushion between the stairs and the side to prevent scratching. In the gold scheme, NZ6256 only had the 150G tanks painted and fitted as far as I remember and looking at my photos. "

Steve agrees with the fact about the smaller tanks, which were ex-RAN and never used in normal RNZAF service. "As far as I recall the Gold Hawk only ever flew with the smaller drop tanks at airshows, so there were no large drop tanks in the gold scheme. The standard large ones presumably being unnecessary for it's airshow role."

Public Appearances by the Golden Skyhawk



The Golden Anniversary Skyhawk was flown by Flight Lieutenant Glenn Todd at a number of public events in 1987. Todd had only recently returned to RNZAF Ohakea having been on an exchange to the USA where he'd been flying McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantoms.

- Display over Manfield motor racing track 18th of January 1987

- Wanganui Airshow 18th of January 1987

- Ardmore Airshow 25th of January 1987

- Christchurch International Airport 50th Anniversary, 28th and 29th of March 1987

- RNZAF 50th Anniversary Airshow, RNZAF Base Wigram - 1st of April 1987

- RNZAF 50th Anniversary Airshow, RNZAF Base Ohakea, 4th and 5th of April 1987

- RNZAF 50th Anniversary Airshow, RNZAF Base Whenuapai, 11th and 12th of April 1987


A stunning formation lead by P-51D Mustang ZK-TAF (flown by Trevor Bland) with an
A4-K model (flown by Paul Van Der Oest), the Gold Skyhawk (flown by Glenn Todd) , and an RAAF F-18 Hornet and RAAF Mirage IIIO
(Air Force Museum)

A similar formation but as seen from the ground, this time with a Strikemaster added in. It was possibly the camera-ship for the air-to-air photo above
(Air Force Museum)

This photo was taken on the 26th March 1987, when NZ6256 is accompanied over Taranaki by two F-18 Hornets of the RAAF on the very first visit to New Zealand of these new Australian
fighters. NZ6256 flew out to meet them and escort them in, along with a camera ship.
(Air Force Museum)


The Demise of the Golden Skyhawk


Sadly the Skyhawk NZ6256 was lost in an accident in Australia on the 20th of March 2001 during an exercise with the Royal Australian navy. Thankfully the pilot, Flight Lieutenant Phillip Barnes, was able to make a successful ejection from the stricken aircraft. On the 26th of September 2006 Phil Barnes shared his memories of that experience on the Wings Over New Zealand Forum here, and he has kindly given permission for his story to be reproduced here. This is that story:

Parachute Descent and Logging Liferaft Captaincy
By Phillip Barnes

Once I'd got over the whole "Holy crap, WTF has just happened" effect, the parachute descent drills came back to me readily. It really was a case of all those times spent hanging over the Ohakea pool practicing with a blindfold on or one arm strapped to your side, making the real event flow easily. Thanks to the S&S lads!

The first part of the descent drills was to check that the parachute canopy had fully inflated and wasn't damaged, rise the visor and then drop the oxygen mask away from your face.

In my case, my visor had partially risen during the ejection sequence despite being locked down prior. I think that they found that if the operating arm was sitting just on the detent, the G forces could unlock the mechanism and allow wind blast to raise the visor.

If you had ejected over a forest, you were supposed to keep the oxy mask on your face prior to entering the trees to give face protection. (You would also keep the survival pack - RSSK8 - attached to your behind to stop giving yourself a pine tree enema!). In my case being over water, I unhooked the mask from both clips and pulled it off completely and discarded it.

From there, I activated the emergency beacon located on the survival jacket and then deployed the life raft and survival pack. Unlike previous ejections, I didn't have any problems deploying the pack.

There wasn't a whole bunch more time prior to me hitting the water. I didn't contemplate using the 6(?) line cut to get steering ability on the chute, and I didn't make an attempt to try and steer the chute into wind prior to splashing down. In fact, I remember thinking how glad I was that I was going into the water and not attempting to come down on the land, as I had a reasonable ground speed thanks to a bit of wind.

As I hit the water, I found the Koch fittings OK (where the parachute risers attach to the torso harness) and the chute was blown clear, and I then inflated my lifejacket. It wasn't too much of a swim to get to the liferaft and clamber in. I then deployed the sea anchor and and then draged the survival pack aboard and switched off the emergency beacon that is in the pack. This was all happed just as we had practiced in the pool or when being flung of the back of a launch during wet drills, without much thought on my behalf.

From there, I took my helmet and gloves off and partially inflated the raft's roof and floor. I then started using my helmet as a bailer to clear the worst of the water from the raft. Once most of it had been cleared, I velcroed up the roof and used the integral bailer to try and get the rest of the water.

Early on I got the beacon out of my jacket and switched it to voice mode and made contact with my wingman who was orbiting overhead. It sure was comforting to talk to Ted and let him know I was OK, and hear that help was on the way.

An aside that came out afterwards was that the new beacon the RNZAF had wasn't good for CSAR ops. The beacon was good from a "civvie" rescue point of view, in that it transmitted on 243 and 416 for satellites, but the only voice mode it had went out on 243 Mhz as well. The downside to this was that you needed to keep the beacon mode going so that your position could be DF'd but this would be blaring away on guard (243), so all the guys holding overhead had switched guard off on their radios so that they could co-ordinate the rescue. This meant that I could not raise them if I had tried as they weren't listening...!! The old SARBE had a discrete frequency (282.8?) that could be selected while it still transmitted on guard for DF. Anyway...

There was a pretty big swell running that day and there were waves and white-caps breaking off the tops. I was getting hit side on a bit and the waves were breaking onto the roof portion and splitting open the velcro, so the raft would fill back up water. This didn't seem right as the sea anchor was supposed to keep the back of the raft towards the swell, and I could see it was at 90 degrees to the raft. I found that the parachute had snagged around the RSSK8 container that I'd left dangling down the side, and was acting as a more effective sea anchor and was holding me side on to the swell. Even once I'd untangled it and had put the RSSK8 container on my lap the raft was still not riding out the swell well and the raft would be hit and open the roof up again and fill up with water. I was doing a lot of bailing! I now found that the sea anchor was rolling itself up into balls when dragging through the water and pretty much useless. More bailing....!

I was in the raft for about 90 minutes, and eventually got the helicopter in sight as it closed from the east. Normally you would pop the smoke end of one of your rescue flares for their wind awareness, but I was surrounded by a bit of AVTUR from the jet so didn't want to start a rather large fire ball to advise my position.

The S-76 came into the hover overhead and the rescue swimmer jumped out and came over to the raft. They lowered a back board and intimated that I should get in it! I wasn't too keen but followed - nearly a bad move due to the weather. The stretcher sits quite low in the water and I was restrained by about 5 straps along it's length. The problem was that the swell meant there was a very real risk that I would get rolled upside down while strapped in. I refused to allow my arms to be strapped in, and kept them outstretched as paddles to help keep myself upright.
From there it was off to the hospital and then the BOI.....



Modelling the Golden Skyhawk


Here are some tips for buillding a model of the 50th Anniversary TA-4K Skyhawk:

Recommended Decals:


Model Alliance set

MAS 729006

Model Alliance set
MAS 48006
None known
Recommended Kitset
Fujimi TA-4J

(Kit No. F25)


Classic Airframes TA-4J

Hasegawa A-4E with Kiwi Resins conversion set

Monogram OA-4M with Hasegawa A-4E

Recommended Conversion Parts

Kiwi Resins (conversion for the Hasegawa Kit)

Red Roo 150 Gallon Droptanks

See Here

Click Here

Recommended Paint
Tips from Modellers


Decal Tips
Sam Hall says of the 1/72 Model Alliance decal set:
"Not perfect, has a couple of accuracy issues, but good enough."

Andy Scott says of the 1/72 Model Alliance decal set:
"The Model Alliance Decals were a limited run ( 250 sets I believe in each scale) so they may be hard to source."

Craig Sargent says:
As previously mentioned there are a few issues with the MA decals. I'll be replacing some with ALPS printed decals when I finally get mine underway again.

150 Gallon Fuel Tank Tips
Sam Hall says:
"The 150 gallon tanks I raided from the Hasegawa 1/72 F-9 Cougar kit. I believe, but don't know for certain, that you can find them in some Skyraider kits as well.

Craig Sargent says:
"The Red Roo tanks come in two parts, the main body and the tail fins. The tail fins are a poor copy of the Hasegawa ones with an oval cross section which is about 1.5 - 2mm too tall, but correct width. I binned them and used a set from the Hasegawa Skyhawk mated to the Red Roo bodies (which are quite nidely done).In 1/72 the 150 gallon tanks are in the Academy OV-10s IIRC."

Kitset Tips
Sam Hall says of the 1/72 Fujimi TA-4J kit:
"You can't build a K out of the box; at the least you will need to square the fin-tip, and find a cranked refuelling probe from somewhere, as you only get the straight one in the kit, which I modified. On the plus side, you do get a brake parachute housing, so you won't have to scrounge one."

Andy Scott says:
"The New Classic Airframes TA-4 will need a new fin top and angled refueling probe."

Craig Sargent says:
He is building a "Hasegawa 1/48 A-4E with the front section from a Monogram OA-4M (the Classic Airframes kit will be easier to do, but has some issues which need addressing for any TA-4, as well as a
In 1/72, don't bother with anything other than the Fujimi kits. The Hasegawa kit has dimension errors (as well as raised panel lines - if that is your thing then no problem there). There is still a 1/48 TA-4 on the way from Japan (but don't have a date)."



Below is a gallery for models of the RNZAF's 50th Anniversary Skyhawk. Please feel free to send in photos of your B&H T-bird too.
Contact me



Don Simm's 1/48th Masterpiece

Don Simms built this beautiful example of a TA-4K as the Golden Anniversary Skyhawk from a
Monogram 1/48th OA-4M

The Monogram OA-4M Box lid



Testing the Canopy Fit

The Cockpits

Drop Tank Comparisons

The Gold Paint Applied

The Finished Model