Skip to main content

RNZAF 85: Wing Commander Terry Knight

Served 1961-1986
Terry Knight’s career as a navigator with No. 40 Squadron took him to war zones and around the world several times.

04 April, 2022

After graduating from his Wings course at 23, his first aircraft were the Bristol Freighters, which were replaced in 1965 by the modern C-130 Hercules. 

“The Bristol Freighters were noisy. They leaked and flew slow, but went to some exciting places. They were the Model T Ford compared to the C-130s, which were really flash.” 

Not long into his career, Mr Knight was deployed to Singapore where he went on operational and training flights around South East Asia, including to Hong Kong via Vietnam, which was embroiled in a war between the North and South.

“In those days there were just a lot of American soldiers and aircraft, but there was nothing happening. But by the time we left of course, it was all on. So we were involved in it from fairly early on until right near the end.”

He ended up flying in both the Bristol Freighters and the C-130s doing supply drops into Borneo during Confrontation in the former and carrying troops and supplies into and out of Vietnam in the latter.

“It was continuous. They were exciting times. The Vietnam conflict had been pretty quiet initially and then all of a sudden it started and just kept on going. The resupply flights kept us busy more than anything else really. We did most trips into Saigon, but then we started doing trips into places like Vũng T.u and Qui Nhon.”

On Mr Knight’s return to New Zealand, the travel continued in the new C-130s. The flights spanned the globe, from Antarctica and to Russia, where the crew delivered furniture and other equipment to the New Zealand Embassy in Moscow.  

“The Hercs were interesting to fly in. I was alright up the front, but it used to rain on the people down the back. We would carry people back from Singapore or somewhere and flying at 20,000 feet, everything ices up on the inside of the aircraft, so then when we started to descend it heated up and the rain started to fall. The passengers would be in the cargo department with their umbrellas up – it really wasn’t built to be a passenger aeroplane.”

He also helped deliver milk powder, wheat and rice to Bangladesh’s starving population in the wake of the Bangladesh Liberation War against Pakistan.

“It was a formative time in history when I started my career – there was so much happening around the world. Never a dull moment. There was still a war-time feel at the time. Quite a lot of the guys I worked with had been in the war.”  

In 1974 Mr Knight stepped away from his aircrew role and took up desk jobs in Wellington, including as the Commanding Officer at the Shelly Bay air base in 1976.

The Sunderland aircraft had gone by then and Navy patrol boats were regular visitors. A lot of Air Force personnel also lived at the quarters there.

A promotion to Wing Commander and posting to policy branch followed. The desk job didn’t last long though as Mr Knight was posted to the Sinai with the multi-national peacekeeping force.

“It was a pretty hostile environment over there in the desert. I was the contingent commander for about 36 Kiwis who were there. There were 15 countries involved with representatives there and that was very interesting. 

“In those days there were several fundraising Telethons in New Zealand, so as part of the 1983 episode we decided to run from the bottom of Sinai, where the American base was, up to the top where we were, right through the Sinai Peninsula. I think it took about 24 hours by the time we finished.”

On his return to New Zealand, Mr Knight was posted to roles involving officer postings and moving personnel and their families to various bases.

“That was very interesting stuff, I didn’t get to travel, but I did get to talk with people about moving places and whether they wanted to go or not. In those days there was no choice, not like now,” he said.

“To sum up my career in the Air Force, I thought it was exciting, a lot of fun and doing some reasonably important things on behalf of New Zealand.”