In February 1976 Queen was about to top the music charts with Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocky was the hitting the box office and Anthony ‘Hank’ Hancock was signing up to enlist in the Royal New Zealand Air Force.
Forty-five years and two days later, on February 19, he farewelled a career that saw him promoted to Warrant Officer, travel the world and work on some of the Air Force’s most iconic aircraft.
“Two things inspired me to join the Air Force. I was born and bred on a dairy farm and my father said to me I wasn’t allowed to come back onto the farm until I had a trade behind me. Then we moved to a house in Feilding after dad contracted TB and I became best mates with the boy next door whose father was in the Air Force,” he said.
“I was always out at the Air Force base playing pool and one thing led to another and the next thing I knew I was being recruited off and sitting an exam and then I was on my way to Wigram to the recruit course.”
At 17, Warrant Officer (W/O) Hancock started his career as an aircraft engine mechanic at No. 42 Squadron at Base Ohakea, which was flying Devons and DC-3s.
After completing an engineering course at Hobsonville, W/O Hancock returned to Base Ohakea, this time moving to No. 14 Squadron to work on the Strikemasters and Harvards and later, Skyhawks.
Two years after joining, W/O Hancock was sent to No. 75 Squadron where he was posted for four years in Australia as a “young, easily influenced young fella”, and he ended up touring around South East Asia and the Philippines.
“It was the first time we had ever exercised with the Americans in the Philippines. We stayed on an Air Force base that occupied 221,000 acres, which was a bit of an eye-opener. After the first trip, the second year couldn’t come around quick enough. It was really, really a fun time.”
W/O Hancock was soon promoted to Sergeant and posted to No. 40 Squadron, working on C-130s and Boeing 727s.
“I saw a lot of the world with No. 40 Squadron – a lot of the places like Saudi Arabia and Greece as a maintainer on the Boeing. I also was able to travel across to the UK. I’m lucky, I’ve done four trips to the UK, courtesy of the Air Force,” he said.
“I was in the right place at the right time. I wasn’t married or had any kids, I travelled every chance I had.
“It’s a great reason to join the Air Force – especially the team on No. 40 and No. 5 Squadrons, they are getting around to see the world. No. 3 Squadron is also doing some work off-shore.”
As part of the team to phase in the Aermacchis, W/O Hancock had the opportunity to check out one of the brand new aircraft at an air tattoo in the United Kingdom. With only six hours flying on it, an Italian pilot had flown it to the show for W/O Hancock to get a good look at it and for a couple of Air Force pilots to take it for a spin. It was returned to the factory before coming out to be part of the RNZAF fleet.
In 2001, W/O Hancock’s role in the Air Force was turned upside down with the new Labour Government disbanding the air combat capability. Instead of welcoming new aircraft in, W/O Hancock was put in charge of the team to dispose of the Skyhawks and the Aermacchis. A role he took on for 12 years.
“It was really enjoyable delivering all the aircraft to the museums in different parts of New Zealand – that was a real privilege to take them from their home at Ohakea and put them into their new homes,” he said.
Spending his last few years at Base Ohakea in the Maintenance Support Squadron, W/O Hancock reckons his career has been one of the best.
“To me the highlights have lasted from day one until the day I leave. On the last day I think emotions will come through. I want to just put on a morning tea and slip out the door. But I think it will be quite hard, when I look back and think about the past 45 years.”