ZK-AWO / NZ3548  Part One - The Flying Years

The following photos are presented in chronological order and show the life of Douglas C-47B / DC3C  NZ3548 / ZK-AWO.  If anyone has additional photos they are able to add to the collection, I'd love to hear from you.  Also, if you are able to provide details on colours, corrections or further information to that given below, it would be appreciated. Please contact Chris Rudge at Chris.Rudge@xtra.co.nz or contact me at P.O.Box 240, Lyttelton, New Zealand.  I hope you enjoy the images.

The History

NZ3548 / ZK-AWO (c/n 33480/16732) was built in Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA in 1944 as a model C-47B-35-DK.  Initially registered 44-77148, it was delivered to the USAAF on 15 June 1945, then to the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) at Rukuhia on 7 July 1945.  It was brought on charge with the RNZAF as NZ3548, one of 49 such aircraft acquired by the RNZAF during WWII.  It initially served with 40 Squadron before being issued to 41 Squadron on 25 March 1946.  There are no known photos of the aircraft in wartime olive scheme.

This is an early photograph of NZ3548 while with 41 Squadron RNZAF.  Given the post-war bare metal scheme, this photo was probably taken in the late 1940's.  "41 Transport Squadron R.N.Z.A.F" is written within the fuselage stripe.  Note the early features of the aircraft, such as astrodome (used by navigator), upper aerials, and the holes in the windows so that those aboard could shoot back at attacking aircraft! The forward-facing double aerial shown on the port side of the cockpit was part of a REBECCA unit.

After seven years service with the RNZAF, NZ3548 was struck off charge on 1 July 1952.  It was bought by the National Airways Corporation (NAC) and registered ZK-AWO on 11 July 1952.  The aircraft was converted to a passenger aircraft in November 1952 and was a common sight to air travellers.  This photo, taken circa 1953, shows the aircraft while in civilian passenger configuration (as evidenced by lack of bars over all but the rear window, as well as the earlier paint scheme).  Photo courtesy of Ed Coates Collection

This photo of ZK-AWO was taken at Paraparaumu sometime between early 1953 and late 1958 and was produced as a postcard. It shows the aircraft in an early NAC colour scheme while configured as a passenger aircraft. The registration is clearly shown on the tail and the word "Putaitai" can be read under the co-pilots side window.
"Putaitai" is the Maori word for a native duck, the shoveller. With the high sun angle, dry hills and high cloudbase, this would have been taken in summer.

In late 1958, the aircraft was converted into a freighter in the NAC Overhaul Workshop at Christchurch Airport.  The interior was stripped of all furnishings and linings.  Floor beams were strengthened for tying down freight and the wooden floors were replaced by the original metal ones.  A small door was fitted to facilitate the inspection of freight and replaced the normal door between cabin and crew space.  Folding seats were fitted into the rear of the aircraft for use by attendants when livestock was carried.  ZK-AWO was the fourth such conversion at the Christchurch Airport workshops, each conversion taking about 4000 man-hours.  This photo is from the NAC Airline Review Vol 3 No. 11 Summer issue 1958 newsletter and shows ZK-AWO having the passenger fittings stripped from the aircraft.  Note the overhead locker "bins" and call service buttons and lights.

With interior fittings removed, the floor is strengthened and replaced with an original metal floor so that freight can be tied down.  Later on, when converted to a topdresser, the hopper would have occupied the space aft of the two engineers.

Four NAC freighters in 1958.  ZK-AWO is second on right.  From left, the aircraft are ZK-AOI "Papua" (Construction No. 34226 and ex-RNZAF NZ3554, which was sold to James Aviation on 19 July 1966 for conversion to a topdresser); ZK-BKE "Kawatere" (Construction No. 4119, the only true DC3 in New Zealand skies and imported from Australia - withdrawn 18 January 1966 and sold in Laos); ZK-AWO "Putaitai"; and ZK-AQP "Peho".  The latter aircraft (Construction No. 32897) was originally RNZAF NZ3538 and was withdrawn from NAC on 4 September 1966, being returned to the RNZAF.  It was then sold to K B Neely on 16 December 1980 and exported to Air Comoros, thence to the South African Air Force.  It was cancelled on 19 December 1980.

This photo shows ZK-AWO seven years after it was converted to a freighter.  This conversion changed its designation from a C-47B to a DC3C, the "C" standing for "cargo".  The colour scheme is bare metal with white upper fuselage, red stripes and upper black nose.  Windows remain from its NAC passemger carrying days and rails can be seen inside to prevent freight hitting the windows and fuselage walls.  The astrodome and upper aerials have been removed and a new HF aerial fitted.  This photograph was taken on 22 September 1965 after the aircraft suffered an engine failure.  The aircraft landed at Dunedin on one engine and, from the photograph, appears to have been towed off the runway.

A nice close-up of ZK-AWO showing NAC paint scheme and the use of the name "Putaitai".  Note the feathered port propeller following the engine shutdown.  The pilots are still aboard the aircraft as it is towed off the runway.

Another photo of ZK-AWO after landing at Dunedin.  Just left of the open door is a crown symbol and "ER" for "Elizabeth Royal" (the Queen) and the words "Royal Mail".  The second window from the rear serves as an emergency exit, the same as it did when it was with RNZAF.

A great front quarter photograph of ZK-AWO.  Underwing markings show "NAC" under starboard wing and "ZK-AWO" under port wing (lettering reading from front to back).  A number of probes/aerials are evident under the front fuselage.  The first can be seen at the very front.  Next back are the pitot probes (see close-up photo further up the page) and, from these, an aerial runs back to two other "posts", which terminate under the centre section.  This was for for DME (distance measuring equipment) sensing. Behind the pitot probes is the ADF loop. 

ZK-AWO was withdrawn from NAC on 5 September 1966 and sold to Airland (NZ) Ltd, where it was delivered on 21 March 1967 after conversion for agricultural work.  It was the fourth DC-3 to be operated by Airland.  It was registered with Airland on 12 April but did not commence work until 15 October 1968.

ZK-AWO in Airland colours.  Exact colours are not known but it is clear that the nose, upper fuselage, tail and outer wings are probably white.  Ailerons and lower fuselage are possibly grey (?), or the same colour. The colour of the dark fuselage stripe is not known.  Cowlings and nacelles appear to be bare metal.  Propellers and hubs are black.  All external aerials have been removed.  Note two fuselage windows on starboard side - the forward window being removed at a later date.

The location of this photo is not known but there is a large aerial behind the aircraft which indicates this is a major airport, probably Milson (Palmerston North).  This makes sense given the inspection platform at right. Also, note the wheel chocks in place.  This image may well have been taken during a maintenance run-up. 
Note ladder onto rear of port wing - this allowed the pilots to get into the cockpit via the emergency door where the window is located as access past the hopper was not possible. 

Another image of ZK-AWO while with Airland.  A large aerial can be seen behind the aircraft, as well as houses and Norfolk pines.  This could also be Milson aerodrome, Palmerston North but, given the pines, may be elsewhere.

Location of this image is also unknown.  The area around the airfield seems to be sparsely populated.  Hood Aerodrome perhaps?

This photo shows ZK-AWO after it went to Feildair on 20 February 1978 and was repainted.  Top of nose is black, fuselage yellow and white with black stripes separating the two colours, wings yellow and white (also with black stripes), tail is yellow with thick black leading edge (difference in tonal colour of yellow is because rudder is not central), and probably bare metal cowlings with black nacelles.  The propellers and spinners are black.  Note the registration on rear fuselage is the full "ZK-AWO" with thicker lettering. 

A nice close-up of the nose showing the retention of the "Putaitai" name from NAC days.  Other markings show "Exit" within an arrow pointing to cockpit emergency exit (only opened from inside), "Fire Extinguisher Inside" with symbol and "Axe inside" with symbol.  The freight door was removed and replaced with a solid panel while still with Feildair and prior to the aircraft being scrapped.

Superphosphate can be clearly seen in this photo covering much of the "Fieldair" name and back over the tail.  Location of photos is unknown (Milson or Takapau perhaps?).

Now here is something you can't do with a Fletcher!  Fieldair pilot Gerry Kluck carried his Mini with him between topdressing jobs!  Note the "Douglas" logo on top of the rudder.
A nice early colour photo of ZK-AWO at Gisborne Aerodrome. It can be seen that in the early Fieldair paint scheme the front of the fin had a larger black area and the engine cowlings were bare metal. Photo: Colin Hunter

Beautiful air-to-air photo of ZK-AWO taken by Ross Ewing.  The colour scheme shown here is a later version.  Differences include bare metal propeller and spinner, grey coloured cowling, single colour tail with thin black leading edge, addition of Fieldair logo on the fin and deletion of the "ZK" from the registration.  The front freight door has also been removed. The hopper opening can be see on top of the fuselage.

ZK-AWO is reloaded with superphosphate before heading out on another run.  Location of photograph is unknown but is probably taken in the Wairarapa or Hawke's Bay (Hood Aerodrome?).  Ross Ewing photograph.

ZK-AWO making a run across bush-backed farmland, probably in the Hawke's Bay area.  In WWII you'd be worried to see a C-47 looking like this but the trail of phosphate dust of a topdressing DC3 was a common sight over hill country farms in the 1970s.  Throughout its life, ZK-AWO spent 8737 hours on topdressing operations.  That's a lot of fertiliser!

ZK-AWO in a fairly clean condition.  As can be seen, engines cowlings were painted grey, with nacelles black.  Propellers and spinner are a bare metal.  The aircraft made its final flight on 1 March 1984, by which time it had amassed a total of 32,846 hours flying time.  The aircraft's registration was cancelled on 29 May 1985.

One story I've heard about ZK-AWO's demise is that it was sitting next to ZK-AWP at Milson Aerodrome, Palmerston North, and someone had to decide which of the two aircraft should be saved and which should be scrapped. The decision was made on the toss of a coin and ZK-AWO lost.  The other DC3 is still flying today!

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