New Zealand museum's photo archives online

Researchers can now browse and download thousands of images of New Zealand’s military aviation history, with the online release of digitised photographs from the Air Force Museum of New Zealand’s archives.

An air to air view of 15 Squadron P-40 Kittyhawk JZ-I NZ3040 in flight from RNZAF Station Whenuapai. AIR FORCE MUSEUM OF NEW ZEALAND PHOTO COLLECTION

This is the culmination of 25 years of behind-the-scenes planning and effort. In 1995, the museum purchased what was then a cutting-edge database, intended as an access tool for people to search for images via the Internet. As it was required to be situated within the Defence Force computer network, however, it wasn’t available to the general public, and people were still required to contact museum staff to arrange reprints.

Since then, technology has progressed significantly. When the Air Force Museum began reviewing and updating its IT system in 2015, the opportunity arose finally to realise the goal of making the photo archives searchable online. New image retrieval software was included as a key component of the new system, which now sits outside the Defence network.

Matthew O’Sullivan has been the Keeper of Photographs at the Air Force Museum of New Zealand for over 25 years, and has worked on the digitisation programme almost single-handedly over that time. “This is a huge step forward for the Air Force Museum, which will revolutionise the way the public can engage with our collections”, he says. “We hope that people enjoy browsing the available images and encourage them to keep returning to see what’s new.”

O’Sullivan notes that around 5,000 images are currently available online, which is an estimated 0.5% of the total collection, but more are being added every day. The photos give a fascinating window into the past - from the early days of military aviation in New Zealand through to the early 2000s - and show New Zealanders engaging in operations both at home and abroad, in peacetime and at war.

The digitised archive represents a considerable new resource for researchers, and everyone from military historians to model makers should find something of interest. The Air Force Museum’s digitised collection can be accessed via their website at: