Rick Bulger’s special visit

Recently we were delighted to reunite a retired RNZAF pilot with a very special aircraft just in time for the holiday season.

Back in December 1966 Group Captain (retired) Rick Bulger was a young RNZAF pilot who travelled to the United States for a conversion course on the latest and greatest aircraft in the RNZAF – Lockheed’s mighty P-3 Orion.

After the course Rick was lucky enough to be co-pilot on the delivery flight of a brand spanking new P-3, which was fresh from the factory in Burbank, California.

That Orion’s tail number was NZ4203, and Rick went on to fly the aircraft many times over the course of his long career in the RNZAF.

Fast forward 57 years to 2023 and Rick was in Christchurch just before Christmas to visit NZ4203 and get reacquainted with the aircraft which is being conserved here at the Air Force Museum of New Zealand.

The museum’s team has been busy filming Rick, and other P-3 crew members, for a short film to accompany a new exhibition which will tell the extraordinary story of the fleet’s contribution to the RNZAF over five decades.

Rick loved seeing his old aircraft again. In a long career he flew more than 6,000 hours on Orions, and NZ4203 features regularly in his logbooks.

Rick said the memories came flooding back, and it was amazing to see the progress that has been made to reassemble the wings and undercarriage since the aircraft was disassembled for its long trip from RNZAF Base Woodbourne through the Lewis Pass to Christchurch in September.

The Orion was a ‘pilot’s aircraft, an absolute joy to fly’ he said.

Overpowered, manoeuvrable, dependable, and beautifully suited to the roles it was assigned are among the long list of attributes of the P-3, according to Rick.

Stay tuned for more updates on NZ4203, including Rick’s memories of the P-3.

We will be putting the film together in the New Year and it will be available online.