Jim Jennings became part of Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) history when in 1976, piloting his A-4 Skyhawk, he fired warning shots across the bow of a Taiwanese squid boat illegally fishing in New Zealand waters.
It was the only time a RNZAF Skyhawk aircraft ever fired its weapons in anger.
While that moment captured the public’s imagination, it did not define Mr Jennings’ extraordinary flying career, which spanned more than 60 years and took him around the world.
He has now retired and this week was farewelled at a small ceremony at RNZAF Base Ohakea.
After growing up on a North Canterbury farm, in 1961 an 18-year-old Mr Jennings enlisted and trained as a mechanic and engine fitter.
In 1964, he decided he wanted to be a pilot. He trained on Harvard and Devon aircraft before being posted to Ohakea to fly Vampires.
“The old Vampire that sits outside of the main gate of Ohakea is one I’ve flown many times.”
The RNZAF then upgraded to Skyhawks and Mr Jennings flew them on exercises in Singapore, Malaysia and Australia. He also did a stint on the Strikemaster as operations flight commander.
He spent some time at headquarters in Wellington before, along with his famiy, being posted to Malaysia in the integrated Air Defence System, from 1981 until 1983.
Mr Jennings then returned to his old stomping ground at Ohakea where he served as the Strike Wing’s Executive Officer before an “out of the blue” offer he couldn’t refuse to take command of the Skyhawk training unit, No. 2 Squadron.
“I had two lovely years there training lots of pilots on the Skyhawk and having a real blast.”
Another career highlight occurred in 1989, when Mr Jennings deployed to Iran as the Detachment Commander of the Air Unit providing the in-country air transport to the United Nations mission there.
“It was a very nice place and a lovely country and the mission itself worked quite well but it did have its moments dealing with Iranian Revolutionary Guards.”
The country was like “Central Otago on a grand scale”.
“It had magnificent scenery, lovely people, and snow. My tour was a winter one and at the back of Tehran, where we were based they had a very good ski field. It was a real highlight of my career.”
In 2010, he was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, for services to the military.
In 2011, Mr Jennings’ position was turned into a civilian role. For the past 10 years he has looked after operational support matters, including the airline diversion capability at Ohakea.
The 79-year-old is now ready for retirement and a “good sleep in”.
“I feel young, but the reality is, that’s quite a few years on the clock. I think it was time to retire and give someone else a run at it.
“I think I will miss being on an air base with aircraft around, because I’ve been with aircraft nearly all my life, but it’s been a lovely experience and I’ve worked with some excellent people over the years.”