Congratulations NZ4203 – Aircraft of the Year 2023

Our Lockheed P-3K2 Orion is the winner of the Air Force Museum of New Zealand’s inaugural Aircraft of the Year competition.

Final flight of No. 5 Squadron Orion NZ4203 over the Air Force Museum of New Zealand on the way to RNZAF Base Woodbourne. Image ref, MUS21245, RNZAF.

We asked Kiwis to vote for their favourite aircraft from among our collection of 33 historic aircraft in a poll which attracted thousands of votes.

NZ4203 – which recently retired from the RNZAF after more than 50 years’ service – shot out to an early lead and held off a late charge from the McDonnell Douglas Skyhawk, which finished up in second place.

McDonnell Douglas Skyhawk NZ6254 in the air over RNZAF Base Ohakea in 1989. Image ref, OhG384-89, RNZAF.

The Orion finished with 19% of the votes cast, the Skyhawk was close behind with 17%.

The Bell UH-1H Iroquois helicopter came in third (15%), and the Supermarine Spitfire (6%) finished fifth. The North American Mustang, Hawker Siddeley Andover, Bristol Freighter, de Havilland Vampire, Curtiss Kittyhawk and Douglas C-47B Dakota rounded out the top 10.

While Forest & Bird’s recent Bird of the Century vote was hijacked by overseas agents, Museum Director Brett Marshall confirmed there had been no sign of foreign interference in the voting and the Orion was a legitimate winner.

“There were a lot of heated debates but no funny stuff – it was a clean result,’’ Mr Marshall said.

“We were surprised the Orion took a big lead from the start, but it shows the depth of feeling there is in New Zealand about the aircraft.

“Our fleet of Orions stood guard over our shores for more than 50 years, they saved countless lives and flew thousands of missions, and they were a familiar sight in the air to so many. The Iroquois retired 10 years ago and is still much loved, and its placing shows it still has a huge following among Kiwis.’’

Group Captain (retired) Rick Bulger is an avid Orion fan and said the win came as no surprise to him – although he may be a little biased.

He was co-pilot on NZ4203’s delivery flight to New Zealand back in 1966 and he flew the RNZAF aircraft for 21 years.

“Not only was it a beautiful aircraft to fly it was exceptionally good at its job for more than 50 years,’’ Mr Bulger said.

“There was never any real competition – although the Iroquois is exceptional as well.’’

The exceptional Bell UN-1H Iroquois NZ3801. Image ref Bell UH-1H Iroquois NZ3801, RNZAF.