Forty-three years after it was delivered, one of the air force’s oldest flying machines has clocked up an impressive 10,000 hours in the air.

The Number 3 Squadron Sioux training helicopter, NZ 3706, was taken aloft several weeks ago by the commanding officer of the squadron, Wing Commander Ian MacPherson for its 10,000th hour of flying.

The Bell 47 Sioux prototype helicopter first flew in 1945 at the end of World War II. The versatility of the nuggety little helicopter was shown a few years later when they were widely used in the Korean War to bring back wounded soldiers from the front lines to medical units for treatment.

They became familiar around the world after the MASH television series about an American army medical team in Korea in the early 1950s.

The Royal New Zealand Air Force took delivery of 13 Sioux helicopters in 1965 and 1970. They were the first military helicopters operated in New Zealand and were used in a variety of roles, including reconnaissance, battlefield liaison and pilot training.

The air force said seven of the machines had crashed, including one a year after it was delivered, and only five were still flying.

They were used to train pilots and were an excellent platform to teach the fundamentals of helicopter flying because of their “excellent visibility and the forthright challenge of flying the beast,” Squadron Leader Tim Evans said in the latest issue of the air force magazine, Air Force News.

“There is a common adage that if you can fly a Sioux, you can fly anything,” he said.

The Sioux helicopter fleet are to replaced by five Italian built, Agusta-Westland A109LUH light utility helicopters,

Defence minister Phil Goff signed a $139 million contract for the five new state-of-the-art helicopters in May this year and they are to enter service in 2011.