The RNZAF Museum has some very distinct areas that make up the layout. I thought it would be nice to give a few details for prospective visitors of what they might see there. We'll begin at the main entrance, on the northern side of the museum.
The RNZAF Museum has an adequate free car park with nicely manicured gardens and a very poignant memorial garden. Below is the view of the museum that you'll see as you enter the building. This is the building added onto the old No. 1 Hangar and opened in 1987.
Once you're in the doors, the reception area is on your left where you buy your tickets. If you go round behind the ticket counter you'll see the shop which is packed full of interesting NZ aviation related books, models and memorabilia. The museum also sells its own souvenirs and philately there.
Upon entering through the main doors you enter the Atrium, a large space that is bordered by the museum shop, the cafe and the theatrette called the Scollay Theatre. The Atrium is a sort of welcome hall, and is sometimes used for temporary displays and special functions. It housed three aircraft when the museum opened, the Bleriot XI replica, the Tiger Moth and the Vampire FB.5, all hanging from the ceiling. To accompany these three generations of aircraft, three generations of pilot were represented on the atrium floor, dummies posed greeting each other, wearing the flying clothing of each period the planes were from - World War One, World War Two and the 1950's to 1960's.
In 1987 the McDonnell Douglas Corporation donated a Skyhawk to the museum, and when this was restored and modified to represent an A-4K of the RNZAF, it took up position in the Atrium too, on the floor. To suit, a fourth dummy was added to the pilot display with a 'knuck' in modern day 1980's Skyhawk flying clothing.
Above, the four pilot dummies seen in the Atrium of the RNZAF Museum.
As seen left to right, a WWII pilot, a WWI pilot, a Vampire era pilot with his
back to us and a Skyhawk era pilot
The other main feature in the Atrium is, the Roll of Honour which has the names of every serving Air Force person who has lost their lives in the course of their service, listed on the western wall of the Atrium. This roll was added and opened in 1992.
The Memorial Alcove
As you pass from The Atrium into the next section it is difficult to miss the wonderful stained glass memorial windows dedicated to fallen airmen of New Zealand. Note, below, how the light from the window colours the floor in interesting ways. Also note the bent propeller. And of interest in the Atrium is the reflective metal fascia that skirts the mezzanine floor above - this always looks great and reflect almost all the Atrium aircraft in photos.
If you go through the right-hand entrance to the next section, on the way through you'll now see (on the wall between you and the Memorial Windows) the actual windows from St Mark's Chapel from RNZAF Wigram.
If however you passed through on the opposite side of the Atrium hall (on the cafe' side) you might see the impressive scale model of RNZAF Station Wigram as it looked in 1942. This was created by two of the museum's guides.
Also on that side there is a display of medals, and this can also be seen against the wall on the back of the memorial alcove.
The Aviation History Hall
Once you've walked around there, you're now in the display alcoves of the Aviation History Hall. These are a series of cases that trace New Zealand military aviation history from its earliest days to the modern era.
These display cases were designed originally by Harvey Courtman, and the include artifacts, models, photos, documents and all sorts of relics. Each case represents a separate era of New Zealand aviation history, and all are fascinating and well worth spending time browsing. Some very rare artifacts indeed are to be seen, especially from the early days.
Some examples of the kind of things you will see include:
Engine and propeller from a 1918 Walsh Brothers Flying Boat
The spinner from a 1920's Gloster Grebe, one of two used by the NZPAF
Sir Charles Kingsford Smith's leather helmet
WWII airman's balaclava, matches and cigarettes
The Air New Zealand Aircraft Hall
From the fascinating display alcoves, you then move into the Air New Zealand Aircraft Hall. This is the main hangar, and its creation was heavily sponsored by the airline, Air New Zealand. It is dark and cold. But it is filled with pristinely restored historic aircraft.
For more details of the aircraft in the Air New Zealand Aircraft Hall, see the aircraft page here. However, there's more than just aircraft on display in this hall. Be sure to check out the various Air Force vehicles and also the collection of engines on display too.
The hall is theatrically lit with the purpose to create little scenarios around the aircraft, some creating nighttime, some dawn, some daylight.
The BAe Gallery and Mezzanine
The BAe Gallery is upstairs above the Aviation History Hall, and it includes both temporary and permanent displays. In more recent times this fascinating area has had displays ranging from the RAF Bomber Command and Battle of Britain displays to the RNZAF Strike Wing display. There is also an area for aviation artworks, with some wonderful original paintings on display.
Passing through the gallery you come out onto the mezzanine above the Atrium. There are various displays on the mezzanine including a fascinating collection of WWII aircrew signatures from the Bush Inn pub at Riccarton, and the Wartime House display. The Christchurch Brevet Club is also accessed from the mezzanine floor, and you can view the three hanging Atrium aircraft at eye level too.
The Hangar Tours
Every so often, perhaps every hour but I believe it depends on how many people are flowing into the museum, the Guides will call for visitors to join a tour to the other hangars.
They will take you behind the scenes to both the fascinating Restoration Hangar (No. 2 Hangar) and the Reserve Collection Hangar (No. 3 Hangar).
Be sure to join a tour as there are many aircraft to see, both restored and under reconstruction.
For those not so mobile who wish to go upstairs, you'll find the lift in the corner of the Atrium between the shop and the cafe'. There is also a chair lift on the stairs from the Air New Zealand Hall to take people up to the galleries on the second floor. Guides will assist people with this.
The Air New Zealand Hall is cold, even when it's warm outdoors, but especially in winter. For those who feel the chill, the museum provides a rack of genuine RNZAF greatcoats for visitors to borrow and don whilst in the hall. You'll see it just inside the entrance to the hall.
At the front of the Skyhawk is a desk where the Museum Guides are usually on hand to either help by answering questions or by giving you a personally guided tour of the museum. When the tours for the restoration workshop and reserve hangars are announced, this is where you should gather to join a tour party.
Toilets can be found in the foyer of the main entrance, and also in the Air New Zealand Aircraft Hall if you walk under the Harvard there are toilets on the side of the hangar.