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RNZAF Historial Last Updated: Aug 21st, 2020 - 13:06:35

RNZAF Fern Leaf Roundel
By Neville Mines
Oct 14, 2008, 09:21

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It was a letter to the Editor of the Wellington “Dominion” newspaper, published on 17 February 1956,, that actually spurred action that was to result in the RNZAF adopting a national roundel in peacetime. The Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice Marshall W.H.Merton, referred the letter to his staff the same day it was published, and asked that a drawing be prepared showing “a fern leaf placed in the red centre portion of the roundel.”
The problems which ensued were concerned mainly with the actual design of the fern leaf and whether or not it would be applied by stencil or decal. During this period of trial, however, several alternative designs and alternative emblems were proposed by various staff officers. Pilot Officer R.M.Conly (the RNZAF’s official artist) was tasked with producing colour drawings of a silver fern leaf on a red circle, a red fern leaf, a red kiwi and silver fern combination.
The CAS’s fern leaf design held out. The actual design took some deliberation, however, and the assistance of the Drawing Office of the Tourist and Publicity Department (a government department) was sought. The Tourist and Publicity drawing was modified by giving more curve to the rachis (the leaf axis) and simplified so as to be able to be applied by stencil. This design was approved by the Air Board on 16 January 1957.
and implementing instructions were issued in June 1957. Stencils were produced (the Wigram ones were in aluminium) to apply the the white fern leaf over the existing red centres, a process that required careful preparation if leaching of the red was not to produce a pink fern leaf. A reverse stencil was also produced for the construction of new roundels, this being used to apply red to the white area, while masking out both the white ring and the fern leaf. The fern leaf was specified as being “wholly within the red disc and at an angle of 45 degrees to the horizontal axis thereof, with the butt of the fern leaf in the lower left hand portion of the red disc, as viewed by an observer.” Where the observer would stand to observe was not specified, and this led to a little confusion. I suspect that on some of the fuselage roundels the 45 degrees was taken from the horizontal when the aircraft was sitting on the ground, rather than at 45 degrees to the fuselage reference plane which was probably what was intended. On the wings the fern was at 45 degrees to the aircraft’s longitudunal axis with the butts towards the trailing edge – usually! I have found this to be case with the upper wing roundels, but underneath the port wing the butt was sometimes leading. This in fact did meet the criteria for an observer who was positioned to read the serial number under the wing.This overall arrangement could be called the ‘3+1’, i.e three butts trailing and one leading.
The paint was still drying on them when moves were made to adopt a better representation of the fern leaf. Legend has it that one of the driving reasons was that the white stencilled fern leave could be mistaken for a white feather- the symbol of cowardice! Whatever the reasons, the search for an alternative was underway within nine months of the approval of the white fern leaf. During this period actual fern samples were viewed, and it became quite obvious that anything approaching a true likeness of a fern leaf would be too intricate for anything but a decal.
On 19 December 1957, the Air Board decided that that the fern leaf should be changed to silver, and by early 1958 a company had been approached to manufacture two types of decal for a trial application on Vampire tail booms at Ohakea. One type comprised a silver and black fern leaf decal to be placed on the existing red centres, and the other comprised the complete red disc with the silver and black emblem already printed thereon. Trials obviously had to establish some measure of the durability of the materials, and it was June 1958 before a report was made. This recommended the plain fern leaf as the more durable, and action was then taken to procure stocks for the entire RNZAF fleet. This roundel was to be the standard for the next 13 years.
Before it was adopted, however, some changes were made to roundel sizes. The cost of decal was relatively high, and the variety of roundel sizes extant would have meant holding a range of seven sizes. Some rationalisation was therfore carried out and the number of of roundel sizes reduced to five by increasing all Dakota roundels from 48 inch to 54 inch, and Hastings wing upper from 72 to 84 inch and lower from 48 to 54 inch. These deliberations and the obtaining of quotes took until the end of 1958, so it was 1959 before the roundel appeared as a standard. At present there is no indication as to the time it took to change over
. In the lead up to the December 1957 decision, the alternatives of all butts facing the trailing edge or the underwing ones matching the serial numbers was discussed, but no record of any decision has been found. It may be noted, however, that official colour scheme drawings issued in 1970 specified the ‘3+1’ arrangement.
In service, the roundel came in for a fair amount of criticism. Ther had been no problems with the prototype roundels on the Vampires, but other aircraft had raised rivet heads. These made the decals difficult to apply and prone to surface breakage. Upper wing roundels were exposed to a lot of bright sunlight, particuarly in the tropics, and deterioration was a major problem. Notwithstanding these problems, a silver fern decal in mint condition tended very much to blend into the red background, making the marking often indistinguishable from the RAF roundel, even at comparitively close quarters.

Pressure mounted for a change. Documented pressure was spasmodic, but it always pointed to the kiwi as the ideal emblem, although on unsolicited drawing from a member of the public had a red southern cross as the roundel centre. An observant spectator at the opening of Rongotai (Wellington) airport made the point that the visiting were “zapped” with kiwis, not fern leaves! ( I vividly remember personally “zapping” aircraft at Tengah in 1968 and, yes, I used a kiwi!) An editorial in the Dominion of 21 October 11966 discussing New Zealand emblems generally during the aftermath of the Commonwealth Games, made reference to the RNZAF roundel, and this brought forth comment within RNZAF Headquarters that Woodbourne’s roundel should be adopted. Yes, pressure was also mounting within the service, and tradesman ar Woodbourne had painted a large kiwi roundel and mounted it on the inside of a hangar wall where visiting officers could hardly fail to miss it.(I remember it well!)

Kiwi Roundels
In late 1969 the moves that were to spark change gained momentum with a letter from the CO of 41 Squadron (flying Bristol Freighters) in Singaapore. Operating among a sea of RAF roundels, and a few kangaroo ones as well, he voiced strong objection to the unsatisfactory silver fern and suggested that a black kiwi would be more appropriate and easily recognisable. The AOC Operations Group sought opinions from others under his command. Unanimity was for the kiwi, and the AOC put a case to RNZAF Headquarters. In support, a red kiwi, allegedly based on the bird on the twenty cent piece but quite obviously from the concurrent two shilling piece, was painted on white cardboard and attached to the starboard fuselage roundel of Dakota NZ3553 and photographed .
The Air Board were swayed.
It was some time, however, before a final kiwi design was to gain approval. The two shilling kiwi was judged unbalanced in the roundel setting, the mass being off-centre. On 29 July 1970 the AOC Operations Group forwarded a revised design, and with the approval of the CAS this was forwarded for consideration by the Defence Council. The latter approved the adoption of the kiwi on 8 September 1970 and kiwi roundelwas born. Implementation instructions soon followed and the change-over was under way.
The kiwi roundels (and variation on it) looks set to stay. The pressure for change was completely dissapated with the adoption of the kiwi emblem, and the design has been popular among RNZAF personnel and, one suspects, almost universally recognised by foreign military personnel. The RNZAF uses the word “Kiwi” as its registered call sign (and had been doing so in South-East Asia before 1970), and New Zealanders abroad are known as kiwis in many parts of the world.
The kiwi is applied by stencil, and the roundel is normally carried in all six positions on non-camouflaged fixed wing aircraft, two positions on helicopters. Camouflaged aircraft normally have the starboard upper and port lower wing roundels omitted. The kiwi’s beak always faces the direction of flight, and its feet point towards the ground on fuselage applications or the aircraft centre line when applied to wings. These specifications were not adhered to when the Andovers were having their roundels converted in the United Kingdom in 1976, and NZ 7624 had the kiwis on the wings both facing starboard with the feet rowards the trailing edge. The error was spotted after the aircraft had arived in New Zealand.

Occasionally the kiwi will feature an ‘eye’ in white, but this is not part of the authorised design.

In 1982 the white was removed from the roundels applied to those surfaces painted in the low visibility camouflage in much the same way as the RAF reverted to the B type roundels on their camouflaged aircraft.

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