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Chathams Pacific Convair 580 50 Seat Aircraft

The History of Chatham's Douglas DC-3 (A3-AWP)

AWP - A Wonderful Plane (Peter Layne)


In response to the huge international interest that Tangaloa has created I decided that I would <attempt to> document the history of this aircraft on this website.  I say <attempt> because I was mindful of how impossible it would be just to wave a magic wand and have 65 years history all mapped out.

I did spend many, many hours ferreting around finding facts and stories.  In the process I have been really appreciative of the assistance I have had from a number of individuals who have been extraordinary in their generosity and time.  

PLEASE NOTE: We want you to enjoy the history of this gorgeous aircraft and trust that you appreciate that the following people have contributed an enormous labour of love, time and money to achieve this level of accuracy and detail.  Please do not just lift images or the story off of this site without contacting us - and the original authors - and ensuring their permission and acknowledgement.  Thanks.

Wendy Page,
Online Manager, Chathams Pacific Airways

Special thanks are accorded the following people: 

Peter Layne, New Zealand
Peter is the co-author of:

  • SPANZ South Pacific Airlines of New Zealand & their DC-3 Viewmasters
  • Taking Off - Pioneering Small Airlines of New Zealand 1945-1970
  • The Illustrated History of NZNAC 1947-1978

Graeme Mills, New Zealand

Ruud Leeuw
Rob Neil

65 Years Pedigree

1945 Birthday or 1944??????? this is highly debatable !

Built in 1944 as a C-47B , the aircraft served as NZ3543, being brought on charge on May 13 1945, and struck off on July 3 1952.

This airliner was built over six decades ago in 1945, in Oklahoma City, U.S.A. ZK-AWP (Alpha Whisky Papa) came off the production line with constructor's number 16387, however, when the Douglas Company realised they had duplicated many numbers, it was renumbered 33135. It was a Lend-Lease aircraft and designated as a C-47B-30-DK and initially bore U S Army Air Force serial number 44-76803.

April 1945 | Royal New Zealand Airforce | (serving NZ & Singapore)

Handed over to a delivery crew on 21 April 1945, it flew to Rukuhia (Hamilton Airport), New Zealand where it was taken on charge, as RNZAF Dakota, NZ3543, on 13 May 1945.

On 21 July 1945, '43 was attached to 41 Transport Squadron and remained on its strength until 1952. A minor mishap occurred on 26 July 1949 while supply-dropping near the Mueller Glacier in the Southern Alps. Following that incident, it was based in Singapore, until 1951 and used on supply drop missions during the Malayan Emergency.

15 July 1952 | National Airways Corporation | New Zealand

In 1947, the RNZAF had begun transferring its freight-carrying role over to New Zealand National Airways Corporation (NAC).

Over the next ten years, 26 RNZAF Dakotas were civilianised to NAC as DC-3s for freight and passenger carrying duties. In the early 1950s, the Air Force re-equipped with Handley Page Hastings and Bristol Freighters to serve in the transport role.

Eventually, NZ3543's turn for replacement came and the aircraft was given civil registration, ZK-AWP, on 15 July 1952. In keeping with a tradition stemming back to the mid 1930s, the aircraft acquired the Maori name of a New Zealand native bird. AWP became POWHAITERE (Yellow Fronted Parakeet) - Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae.

During ZK-AWP's long life with NAC it served as a passenger aircraft fitted out in their standard 26-seat configuration. NAC’s DC-3s had a strong reputation for reliability and hard work.

By late 1960, the NAC turboprop fleet expanded rapidly with the introduction of Friendships to supplement the Viscounts. NAC had recognised the need to make the slower DC-3s more visible in the air and ZK-AWP was chosen as the guinea pig. Day-glo paint appeared on the wing tips and top of the tail. Although the aircraft stood out, the next idea was to install a red anti-collision light on the top of the fin and these were fitted to all the fleet.

NAC realised the DC-3s would remain in service for several more years and were feeling the effects of the smaller airline SPANZ using DC-3 Viewmasters fitted with windows, five feet long.

The first improvement was a new paint scheme introduced in 1961 for the DC-3s and also the Dominies. They began receiving the same paint scheme as was currently in use on Viscount and Friendship aircraft.

Before the entire fleet was repainted, NAC began upgrading the passenger comfort of most of its DC-3s to a similar level enjoyed by Friendship passengers. This programme, started in early 1963, included a complete refurbishment of the passenger cabin and the installation of improved soundproofing, heating and public address system. The most obvious change was the installation of enlarged windows, measuring 18inches by 19inches. Although these windows were much smaller than those fitted to the Viewmasters, they were a vast improvement.

These DC-3s were known as DC-3 Skyliners and were named after provincial towns that they served. AWP became Skyliner KAITAIA.



2 February 1970 | Leased to Polynesian Airlines | Samoa

NAC introduced Boeing 737s in 1968 by which time only a few hardy DC-3s remained in the fleet, some serving with airlines in the Pacific Islands.

On 2 February 1970, ZK-AWP was leased to Polynesian Airlines and cancelled from the New Zealand register. Three days later, with a new identity, 5W-FAI flew to Apia, Western Samoa.

8 June 1973 | Returned to New Zealand

The Polynesian Airlines lease duly expired and the old girl returned to New Zealand and retrieved its registration ZK-AWP on 8 June 1973.

NAC no longer had a use for her so they converted ZK-AWP to a topdressing aircraft at Christchurch and she was test flown as such on 27 July 1973.

Gone were all the Skyliner luxuries, even most of the windows were covered over.

A large topdressing hopper had been installed in the fuselage and a hole had been cut in the roof to replenish it.

3 August 1973 | Southern Air Super Ltd, New Zealand

On 3 August 1973, ownership transferred to Southern Air Super Ltd, a subsidiary of topdressing giant, James Aviation who based ZK-AWP in Queenstown for two years

14 July 1975 | Field Air New Zealand

Purchased by Fieldair Ltd on 14 July 1975. ZK-AWP was relocated to the East Coast of the North Island.

Fieldair had several bases served by its ten DC-3s or Ag-Daks (Agricultural Dakotas), as they were affectionately known.

She was back with six old friends from the NAC days.

ZK-AWP was to suffer damage when one of the hopper loading booms collapsed at Gisborne on 13 November 1976, and hit its roof. Poor old ZK-AWP was withdrawn from use until another DC-3s retired and donated all the parts necessary to get ZK-AWP back in the air. ZK-AWP is of the survivor mould. She was withdrawn from service on 27 May 1985 with 6722 topdressing hours on the clock but, unlike most of her stable mates, ZK-AWP’s flying days were far from over.

During 1986, a DC-3 operator called Classic Air Services was formed and imported a DC-3, ZK-AMR, from Australia. ZK-AWP was given another new role and emerged from Fieldair's hangar with a new paint scheme, reinstallation of some of the windows, crew door and dual control systems. The topdressing gear had been removed and replaced with a custom-built freight floor with tie down points.

These aircraft were contracted to deliver mail and freight on behalf of N Z Railways Speedlink Parcel courier service, primarily between Wellington, Blenheim and Christchurch.

Classic Air Services was sold to Fieldair in 1987 and renamed Fieldair Freight. Business increased and so the final Fieldair topdressing DC-3, ZK-BBJ, later joined them. The job was managed very well by this trio however, in 1990/91 Air New Zealand retired its Friendship fleet. Air Work (NZ) Ltd, trading as Air Post, bought two of the Friendships and converted them into freighters.

In time, they gained the DC-3 freight contracts. 

28 August 1993 | Alpine Fighter Collection

The DC-3 trio soldiered on until the last flight on 26 March 1993 and were sold.

ZK-AWP was selected by Tim Wallis, the visionary behind by the Alpine Fighter Collection at Wanaka in the South Island and the ownership changed on 28 August 1993.  The initial plan was to paint it in its wartime paint scheme but this did not proceed.

?????????? Leased | Classic Air Ltd

ZK-AWP returned to Fieldair at Palmerston North to be converted back into a passenger carrying aircraft.

It appeared in a burgundy and white scheme and registered to Classic Air Ltd of Wellington. This enterprise, designed to capture the overseas tourist dollar, leased ZK-AWP from Tim Wallis. Although well intended, this venture was unfortunately short-lived and the aircraft returned to Wanaka.

?????? Private Ownership

ZK-AWP was offered for sale and its New Zealand future looked precarious. Fortunately, Rob Mackley whose father Bill had flown it in both its RNZAF and NZNAC days saved it from an overseas sale.

????????? New Zealand Aerial Mapping (Historic Flight)

ZK-AWP flew to Auckland where it did occasional flying and was eventually sold to New Zealand Aerial Mapping (Historic Flight) and placed in storage in Palmerston North.

During 1999, Fieldair Ltd refurbished the aircraft and repainted it in the NAC Skyliner paint scheme. The owners did not have a specific use for the aircraft and so in 2000 it was again placed on the international market.

June 2000 Pioneer Adventures Ltd | New Zealand & Australia

Fortunately, from a historical viewpoint, Pionair Adventures Ltd in Christchurch found a use for this tireless old workhorse with 46,000 hours on the airframe and took delivery in June 2000. As a result, this old lady; a survivor from the RNZAF, NAC, the topdressing industry, courier freight and sundry other ventures, was to fly in New Zealand for several more years. In Pionair’s hands, ZK-AWP was to fly on many trips around New Zealand and when the company ventured into the Australian market this aircraft started appearing in many parts of Australia as well, still proudly wearing its NAC Skyliner paint scheme. In May 2002 Pionair took ownership of the aircraft.

On 19 June 2002 ZK-AWP made national headlines when it had a take-off accident at Glentanner, right in front of a TV-3 camera crew. Once again the old girl’s survival streak came to the fore and after receiving on site repairs she flew out to Palmerston North and received permanent repairs. Although the Skyliner scheme was nostalgic, Pionair also sensed the need to market their own brand and had ZK-AWP repainted in Pionair colours. Rather than completely do away with the skyliner scheme, the red double lines at window level were replaced with Pionair’s blue as was the word “Skyliner” Kaitaia was renamed Lucille (Tricia Johnston’s middle name) Tricia, at the time, was Head Flight Attendant and is married to Captain Alistair Johnston.

Long range fuel tanks were fitted and in May 2003 it caused a stir in the Control Tower when the crew called up one morning requesting clearance to take off direct to Melbourne. Ten hours later without any fuss or bother ZK-AWP touched down in Melbourne and regularly operated on both sides of the Tasman Sea.

2 June 2004 | Leased to Peau Vavau | Kingdom Of Tonga

In October 2003 Tim Scott started working on a contract with the Shore Line group of Tonga. Pionair’s client (Crown Prince of Tonga and Joe Ramanlal) wanted their own air service to fly from Fua'amotu to Ha'api-Vava'u and return twice daily under the name of Peau Vava'u Limited

Once Royal Tongan Airlines stopped flying the pressure was really put on to deliver. Captains Collings, Johnston and Mitchell attended to paper work and packing of spares and tools.

ZK-AWP, complete with long range tanks departed Auckland on 2 June 2004 for Tonga flown by Captains Johnston and Mitchell and Co-pilot David Patterson. 7.5 hours later they arrived in Fua'amotu to a royal welcome.

Tricia joined the team in Tonga as Flight Attendant and immediately started recruiting and training cabin crew.

On 9 June the first return trip took place between Tongatapu and Vava’u.

Subsequent flights have also been made to Ha'apai.

21 November 2005 | Peau Vavau | Kingdom Of Tonga

The long term plan was for Pionair to operate Convair aircraft in both New Zealand and Australia and to sell the Tongan DC-3 operation to Peau Vava'u.

Business boomed in the early stages and Pionair progressively withdrew its administration of the operation. Only one DC-3 would be required and ZK-AMY was returned to New Zealand in October 2005.

In the meantime Peau Vava'u would be required to obtain its own Aircraft Operating Certificate enabling it to fly the DC-3 which they now owned.

The New Zealand registration was cancelled on 21 November 2005 and so ZK-AWP became A3-AWP.

While the paper work was being attended to, work was done to maintain the aircraft in flying condition. In March 2006 the Certificate was obtained and for a while business was brisk.

November 2006 | Abandoned | Kingdom Of Tonga

Sadly the DC-3 operation became a victim of the Tongan Riots which broke out in November 2006 and as a consequence the aircraft was locked up in a hangar.


At the invitation of the Tongan government, Air Chathams commenced operations in the Kingdom of Tonga on 14 April 2008. This wholly owned subsidiary is, of course, Chathams Pacific Airways.

Operations began with a Convair 580 and a Metroliner (joined 2nd June 2008 by an Islander).

Over a number of months ownership of the engineering hangar was verified and Air Chathams / Chathams Pacific concluded negotiations to purchase the hangar and the DC-3 within it.

For near-on three years A3-AWP had been largely forgotten but now her time had come again. In mid-2009 Craig Emeny saw the possibility of a niche market as well as her beauty and duly authorised a full restoration project that was to take much of the next year.

September 2010

. An ongoing C of A has taken with the aircraft due to go back into service in Tonga in April 2010. Once more this grand old lady wants to show there is life in the old girl yet.

end cell

Christened Tangaloa 

Tangaloa was an important family of gods in Tongan mythology. The first Tangaloa was the cousin of Havea Hikuleʻo and Maui, or in some sources the brother or son or father of them. He was Tangaloa ʻEiki (T. lord), and was assigned by his father, Taufulifonua, the realm of the sky to rule.  

It is also believed that this god was the fore bearer of the first Kings Of Tonga - The Tuʻi Tonga.  The Tu'i Tonga is a line of Tongan kings, originating in 10th century with the mythical ʻAhoʻeitu.  They withdrew from political power in the 15th century by yielding to the Tuʻi Haʻatakalaua and died out with Laufilitonga in 1865. Today its descendants still live forth in the chiefly line of Kalaniuvalu.

The Douglas DC-3 - Celebrating 75 Years Aviation Success

The Kingdom Of Tonga was the first country in the world to see the dawn of the 75th birthday of the Douglas DC-3 type of aircraft in December 2010.

In this 75th year of aviation history, we are thrilled to have Tangaloa re-enter scheduled services after a painstaking and loving year-long restoration at the Chathams Pacific engineering base in Tongatapu.

"The Douglas DC-3 is an American fixed-wing, propeller-driven aircraft whose speed and range revolutionized air transport in the 1930s and 1940s. Because of its lasting impact on the airline industry and World War II it is generally regarded as one of the most significant transport aircraft ever made. Many DC-3s are still used in all parts of the world.

The DC-3 was engineered by a team led by chief engineer Arthur E. Raymond and first flew on December 17, 1935 (the 32nd anniversary of the Wright Brothers' flight at Kitty Hawk)."

Read the full history from Wikipedia’s of how the DC-3 changed commercial aviation

The History of Tongaloa - Our Douglas DC-3 A3-AWP

Before photo
After photo

National Airways Corporation (NAC)


Scheduled air services within New Zealand

Speedlink Parcels - Field Air

ZK-AWP New Zealand

during the 1980s and 1990s


ZK-AWP Melbourne Australia

circa early 2000s

Pea'u Vava'u


Circa 2005-6



Chathams Pacific


Re-entered services 2010

Specific history for this DC-3 with corresponding photographs found on website

A3-AWP Today

 A3-AWP, ex ZK-AWP (c/n 33135), having its first engine run after being left abandoned at Tonga for over
• One DC3 - 25 seats, very spacious for passenger comfort and ideal for shorter flights.
• This vintage aircraft was totally restored and re-entered scheduled services in September 2010.
• Due to the lower flight altitude the DC3 is particularly well suited to scenic flighting
• Generally found on the Ha'apai route.


Kingdom Airpass help you see more of Tonga.  Hibicus are in abundance
With every island group offering unique experiences Chathams Pacific's Kingdom Passes will help you see more of Tonga for less.


Happy pigs forraging in 'Eua, Kingdom Of Tonga
Gotta go !  Only 8 minutes by air from Tongatapu to an untouched and unique world. Eco-tourism leaders


most exciting discovery of a soft coral reef off Haapai by Darren Rice of Liquid Image Productions & Happy Haapai Divers, Kingdom Of Tonga
Great new dive spot with gorgeous soft coral reef discovered by Darren Rice Discover Ha'apai and the soft coral collection


most exciting discovery of a soft coral reef off Haapai by Darren Rice of Liquid Image Productions & Happy Haapai Divers, Kingdom Of Tonga

Is this the final resting spot of the Port au Prince? Darren Rice & friends of Matafonua Lodge & Dive Centre have discovered a new wreck in Ha'apai. 

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