Skip to main content

Auckland pilot gears up for fitting Hercules farewell display

Ever since Flight Lieutenant Ben Pickering was a little boy, he knew he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF).

27 March, 2024

“I’ve wanted to be a pilot since I was a kid. My Dad was a navigator with No. 40 Squadron, so it’s pretty much engrained in me,” Flight Lieutenant Pickering said. 

“He’d left the Air Force by the time I was born, but his stories remained and I knew it was the coolest way to see the world.”

Now, he’s flying with his dad’s former squadron out of RNZAF Base Auckland in Whenuapai as a co-pilot on the C-130H Hercules.

Warbirds over Wanaka, held over Easter weekend, will be the final airshow for the iconic transport aircraft.

The Hercules fleet will be celebrated with a Formation Thunder flypast, handling display, the RNZAF’s Kiwi Blue parachute display and a lakefront flare drop that promises to be spectacular.

Flight Lieutenant Pickering said it’s a bittersweet feeling to co-pilot the Hercules with the fleet to be retired early next year.

“I’m very excited to be involved with Warbirds, it’s an incredible privilege to play a part in the last display for the Hercules.

“The aircraft have so much history, they are proper Warbirds. It’s cool to be part of its history before moving onto the new C-130J fleet,” he said.

The 25-year-old Aucklander will be heading to Little Rock Air Base in the United States later this year to undertake training on the new Hercules aircraft, which are set to arrive in New Zealand later this year.

“It’s very sad that I won’t be in New Zealand when the current fleet retires. I’m excited to progress my career, but I love flying the C-130H model, so it will be sad.”

The RNZAF has been wowing aircraft enthusiasts across Central Otago skies for 36 years at Wānaka warbirds airshows and this Easter they’re back to delight.

Every current RNZAF aircraft type will take part, subject to availability.

Some will carry out flying displays, while others will be on static display for the public to get up close. Some will be working to provide transport support to the biennial event.

The Air Force Heritage Flight will also be at Wānaka, including a recently restored P-51 Mustang in its first public flying display.

Chief of Air Force, Air Vice-Marshal Darryn Webb, said airshows like Warbirds Over Wanaka support the preservation of New Zealand’s aviation past and present.

“Events such as Warbirds Over Wanaka provide an opportunity for the RNZAF to display its aircraft capability, showing how it can support the people of New Zealand. Domestic airshows and display activities enable the RNZAF to inspire, educate and engage with the communities they serve.

“Not only do they allow for the demonstration of skills and capabilities of the RNZAF, they also support the preservation of the RNZAF’s history,” Air Vice-Marshal Webb said.

A new RNZAF P-8A Poseidon will also be seen in action for the first time, demonstrating a simulated raft drop with a low pass down the airfield.