The "Red Checkers" are the current Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) aerobatic display team.
The team consists of seven CT-4E Airtrainers piston-engined aircraft, of which only five participate in airshows. The airplanes are painted in an overall yellow color and are each equipped with white smoke generators. All of the team's pilots are instructors from the Flight Training School at Ohakea airbase. The ground crew is also drawn from the school. The team does not have separate "official" status as an aerobatic team.
In 1967, the "Red Checkers" aerobatic team was first formed with five Harvard trainers from the Central Flying School of the RNZAF. The aircraft were painted in a standard paint scheme of red and white and this led to the team's name. In the 1973, the "Red Checkers" had to be disbanded because of a world petrol crisis.
The team was re-established in 1980, but this time flying with four CT-4B Airtrainer aircraft. Later, a fifth plane was added to the team for solo displays.
In 1994, all RNZAF CT-4B Airtrainer aircraft were re-painted in an overall yellow and black color scheme and this included the "Red Checkers" aircraft. While this created a paradox in that team a named "Red Checkers" was flying predominately yellow-painted aircraft, the original team name has been retained.
In 1999, the team transitioned to CT-4E-model Airtrainers and also received a sixth aircraft.
On April 11, 2009, one of the team's aircraft was involved in bird-strike at the "Classic Fighters" Airshow at Marlborough, but this was fortunately without any major consequences.
On January 14, 2010, the "Red Checkers" lost Squadron Leader Nicholas Haydn Cree, age 32, in a fatal plane crash. The crash occurred about 8 a.m. near the Santoft Forest, 18 kms west of Bulls, while all six "Red Checker" CT-4 trainers were practicing aerobatic maneuvers. Squadron Leader Cree was performing a non-regulated maneuver that he had not been formally trained to do. He had been performing a "Fishtail Pass" maneuver at the time of a crash - a move where the plane flies in front of the crowd waving the tail left and right like a fish. The Flight Data Recorder was recovered months after the crash. It showed that the pilot had already lost control of the plane while the tail of the aircraft was to the right, but that he had persisted again in pushing the tail to the left. A New Zealand Air Force Court of Inquiry concluded that Squadron Leader Nick Cree continued with the "fishtail pass" maneuver, even though he had already lost control, making the plane further uncontrollable. He was flying at a low altitude of 178 feet and speed of 65 knots when he lost control for the second and fatal time.
Then on March 1, 2010, another incident occurred, when two of the team's aircraft touched each other during a training flight. One of the plane's wheels hit the canopy of another. Both planes then landed safely with minor damage.
After these incidents, RNZAF authorities decided to ground "Red Checkers" for the remainder of the 2010 show season in order to conduct a full review of the team's training program.
In March 2011, the "Red Checkers" resumed flying displays but this time with only five aircraft.