We occasionally have contact from other Air Force Associations, not just from the UK, but around the world. The most recent was the Avionics and associated trades reunion committee (RNZAF), who next year are commemorating the 80th anniversary of the establishment of their training school.
Electrical and Wireless School
As a result of the 1937 expansion of the RNZAF the first “Signals” persons to be trained in New Zealand commenced Wireless Operation Course No. 1 (W1) at the new Electrical and Wireless School at Wigram on 4 January 1938. The Total School staff numbered one – Sergeant R.J. Gibbs who was Commanding Officer, Instructor, and Clerk. Three such courses were conducted in an old hangar, long since demolished, and formed a useful nucleus of Signals personnel for the RNZAF before WW2 broke out. Several RNZAF trained wireless operators and mechanics were actually in England at the start of the war, having been sent to collect the RNZAF’s new Wellington bombers.
Wigram could not initially accommodate the large influx of recruits at the outbreak of the war, so while a new school was being built, staff and trainees moved to Canterbury College and were accommodated at Rolleston House from October 1939 to January 1940. The new school expanded rapidly with the wartime demands for personnel. 5,290 airmen and airwomen were trained on 288 courses through the war years.
Many new Signals trades had been created – Wireless Operator, Telegraphist, Direction-Finding (DF) Operators, Teleprinter Operator, Radar Operator, Wireless Mechanic, Radar Mechanic, Electrician, Signals Clerk and Cypher Clerk. The School also trained mechanics for the Army and Navy.
Post-war, Signals trade training quickly reduced but the School facilities were put to good use for a variety of courses including some aircrew training – Signallers, Navigator (Wireless), and Morse and Wireless Manipulation courses for cadet pilots. Rehabilitation courses were also provided for aircrew entering civil aviation. The School was also used for several non-technical trade courses – Cooking, Stewarding, General Service Training and Physical Fitness.
Instrument Training School
A Technical Training School had been in existence at Hobsonville from 1934, initially providing Fitters and Riggers courses. In 1936 the scope of training expanded to include the Instrument and Equipment trades. The training of Fitters and Riggers moved to Rongotai in 1940 and in 1943 the Instrument Training School moved to Ebbetts Motors premises in Hamilton. However, this move was short-lived, as it moved back to Hobsonville in early 1945. An instructor in 1943 was Graham Gilmore (NZ42612 GILMORE G.H.), who had completed No 12 Instrument Course in 1942.
In January 1956 the School moved again, this time to Wigram. The first course conducted at Wigram was Instrument Assistant (IA) 1, with course members Murray Brown, Dave Pellett, Perry Shephard, Rod Gates (all Boy Entrants) and a number of Compulsory Military Trainees (CMTs). Senior Instructor was Flight Sergeant Bob Lewis. At the completion of this 14-week course, which had been hampered by a lack of training aids (still in their packing cases from Hobsonville) the CMTs dispersed and the four Boy Entrants were given the task of setting up the School. This they found to be quite a challenge as they went through a very steep learning curve, it being a case of ‘learn as you go’ as they unpacked and set up the training aids. One of the more interesting tasks was to set up a theaterette complete with screen projector sound system and seating. Having set up the School, the four Boy Entrants commenced IM1, a 26-week course with Sergeant Cleaver as Instructor.
No. 2 Trade Training School
Due to the variety of trades now being trained at the Electrical and Wireless School, its name was changed to No. 2 Trade Training School on 4 August 1952. Over the following four years, with the introduction of a large variety of new radio and radar equipment into service, increased numbers of mechanics and fitters courses resulted in many of the non-technical courses being displaced to other schools.
No. 2 Technical Training School
The transfer of the Instrument School to Wigram prompted a further name change for the Trade Training School, which became No. 2 Technical Training School in January 1956. Training continued in the operator trades of Telegraphist, Communications Operator (later Telecommunications operator) together with the technical trades of Electrical, Instrument, Radar, Communications Air and Communications Ground. Communications Operators from the Civil Aviation Division of the Ministry of Transport were also trained at the School from 1948 – 1976. Officers were trained on lengthy Junior Signals Officers Courses and Junior Communications Officers Courses. In March 1975 a Technical Assistant course was provided for six airwomen, and in July of that year four airwomen joined the Electrical Mechanics course. From 1976 airwomen were employed in all areas of the Avionics trade.
The wholesale restructure of the RNZAF Technical trades in September 1976 resulted in the five technical trades trained at 2TTS to be merged into the single Avionics trade. As a consequence, major training changes were required and the School was reorganised to cope. Coincident with the start of Avionics trade training in 1977, operator training moved to the new Navigation, Air Electronics and Telecommunications Training Squadron at Flying Training Wing, Wigram. In February 1980, Photographer training was transferred to 2TTS from Ohakea.
As well as Avionics and Photographer trade courses, the School also provided Avionics short courses for Armourers and Flight Engineers, and post-graduate courses in High Reliability Hand Soldering, Microprocessor Maintenance and Navigation Principles.
Aeronautical Training Squadron
With the closure of RNZAF Base Wigram in 1995, all trade training was consolidated at the new Ground Training Wing at RNZAF Base Woodbourne. The aircraft trades are now trained at the Aeronautical Training Squadron, which consists of two flights: Electro Technology Training Flight (ETF), and Aircraft Training Flight (ATF). The ETF is responsible for the training of the Avionics, Telecommunications and Armament trades. 2TTS closed on 28 July 1995, and those courses already underway transferred to Woodbourne. The first course to start at ETF was 95/3 Avionics Mechanics, on 13 November 1995.
In 1951 the RNZAF sent five airmen (three Radio, one Instruments, one Electrical) to join the 68th entry of RAF Apprentices. The Electrical and Instruments tradesmen went to RAF Halton, with the Radio trade training starting at RAF Cranwell, then moving to RAF Locking. Over the next seven years a further 26 airmen attended RAF Apprenticeship Courses, with the eighth and final intake graduating in 1961.
The location of Apprenticeship training moved a bit closer to home in 1960, with tradesmen being sent to Australia. In that year two Radio tradesmen undertook training at the RAAF Radio School at RAAF Point Cook, with one Instruments and one Electrical tradesman going to the RAAF School of Technical Training at RAAF Wagga.
Altogether 61 RNZAF Electrical, Instruments and Radio tradesman attended apprenticeship Courses with either the RAF or RAAF between 1951 and 1975.
In 1962 the RNZAF introduced the New Zealand Certificate of Engineering (Telecommunications) or CET scheme as it became known for Radio tradesmen, so from that point only Electrical and Instruments tradesmen (and Armourers) undertook RAAF Apprentice training. With the change from the single trades to the Avionics Trade in 1976, all further apprenticeship training was discontinued.
Other Services and Civilians
Of course, not all those who have served in some capacity in the Avionics Trades and their predecessors were trained by the RNZAF. Over the years many Commonwealth servicemen have joined the RNZAF either under recruiting schemes or as individual immigrants to New Zealand. They too have made a contribution that is worthy of recognition.
Patron – AIRCDRE Mark Brunton
Chairman – SQNLDR Jon Irving
Secretary: FLTLT Michael Shepherd
Treasurer: WO Nikki Brown
Committee Members: Mr Brian Gamble, Mr Graeme Francis
Christchurch Local Contact: Mr Ken May
Reunion Advisor: Mr Jim Greenslade
Web Master: CPL Thomas Goodman
Updates and news direct from the Committee