As early as 1911, some seven years after Richard Pearse had made the first powered flight in New Zealand, the General Staff had considered aviation's place in defence. Little was done and the country had no air force when the First World War began. During the war, two private companies did much good work in training pilots for the Royal Flying Corps, the Royal Naval Air Service, and, later, the Royal Air Force. These were the New Zealand Flying School at Kohimarama, near Auckland, and the Canterbury Aviation Company at Sockburn, near Christchurch. They trained 290 New Zealanders, most of whom were commissioned in the RFC, RNAS, or RAF. Many other New Zealanders also joined these services.
In 1923 the New Zealand Aviation Corps (the basis of an air force) was formed, comprising two officers and two airmen; and 72 ex-service pilots were enrolled in an Air Force Reserve. Later in 1923 the New Zealand Permanent Air Force was formed, and the New Zealand Air Force was established as part of the territorial forces. Both organisations were controlled by the New Zealand military forces. The airfield at Sockburn, belonging to the Canterbury Aviation Co., was bought as the Air Force's first station and renamed Wigram after the Hon. Henry Wigram, an early advocate of air power, who gave £10,000 towards the cost. Later, a seaplane base was developed at the upper reaches of the Waitemata Harbour, the present RNZAF Station, Hobsonville.
For many years air power had only a few enthusiastic supporters and suffered from lack of money, from official apathy, and from too old and too few aircraft. With the passing of the Air Force Act on 1 April 1937, the Royal New Zealand Air Force became a separate branch of the armed forces of New Zealand.