National icon to become largest exhibit at Air Force Museum of New Zealand

Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch
Aug 17, 2023 |


The Air Force Museum of New Zealand will welcome the latest addition to its collection aircraft in September – a Lockheed P-3K2 Orion NZ4203.

 NZ4203 is a national hero, 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 our Exclusive Economic Zone.

 Air Force Museum of New Zealand Director Brett Marshall said it had been a long wait to get an Orion.

“To say we’re excited would be an understatement. NZ4203 will be the largest aircraft in our collection and one of the most significant.

 “We are delighted to be able to ensure its preservation for the nation.’’

 “We look forward to being able to tell the many stories associated with this extraordinary aircraft type which served us so well for so long.’’

 Built by Lockheed in Burbank California in 1966, NZ4203 entered service with the RNZAF in April 1967. In 2021 it became the first of the type to retire from service when it flew a farewell mission to land at RNZAF Base Woodbourne.

 Mr Marshall said the Orion fleet had given a huge amount of service over 54 years and NZ4203 deserved a happy retirement at the museum where it will be preserved as the only surviving RNZAF example of the type, as it was for its last mission – minus any sensitive military equipment.  

“NZ4203 was the first RNZAF Orion to land in Antarctica back in 2006. It has also taken part in numerous humanitarian and search and rescue missions and has been a lifesaver for many people who have found themselves needing help a long way from home.’’

 NZ4203 served with No. 5 Squadron at RNZAF Base Whenuapai and was regularly upgraded to extend its lifespan, receiving new avionics and radio systems in the 1980s and new wings in the 1990s.

 The aircraft was decommissioned at RNZAF Base Woodbourne in Blenheim and will arrive at the Air Force Museum of New Zealand by road in late August, where it will be stored in the museum’s reserve collection hangar until an exhibition space large enough to house it can be built.

 NZ4203 is 36m long, has a wingspan of just over 30m, and its tail stands 10.3m tall.

 “Our current exhibition halls are too small to accommodate it, so we’re busy working on plans for a new space to exhibit it,’’ Mr Marshall said.

“We will keep everyone posted on our plans as they progress.’’

 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.  

 NZ4203 has been donated to the museum by the RNZAF.

The Orions have been replaced by a fleet of four Boeing P-8A Poseidon aircraft.

Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch

Chris Lynch is a journalist, videographer and content producer, broadcasting from his independent news and production company in Christchurch, New Zealand. If you have a news tip or are interested in video content, email [email protected]

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