Air force squadron leader celebrates 50 years service

The only air force Skyhawk pilot to fire his guns in anger has reached a milestone in his military career.

Squadron Leader Jim Jennings from Palmerston North celebrated his 50th year of service with the Royal New Zealand Air Force earlier this year with a flight in a much slower aircraft, a World War 2 Harvard.

Sqn Ldr Jennings joined the air force in 1961, and in 1976 was a flight lieutenant flying Skyhawk fighter bombers when he was ordered to fly his Skyhawk off the west coast of the North Island and convince a Taiwanese fishing boat Kin Nan to stop by firing 20mm cannon rounds over its bows.

The fishing boat had been fishing illegally inside New Zealand territorial waters but refused to stop for the naval patrol boat, HMNZS Taupo.

At the time overseas fishing boats were plundering the huge squid populations off the Taranaki coast.

The air force said the fishing boat skipper quickly got the message and stopped, and the incident sent out a clear message to the world that New Zealand was serious about protecting its borders.

During his long service, Sqn Ldr Jennings flew Vampires, Skyhawks and Strikemaster aircraft.

Last year he was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in recognition of his 49 years of service to the air force.

The Skyhawks have been in mothballs since the Labour Government took them out of commission in 2001 after 30 years of service.

A decision on their future is expected from the Government soon after a sale to an American company fell through.




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