Waikari’s Tom Sidey has gone from maintaining aircraft to flying them, after serving nine years in the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) as an aircraft technician.
Pilot Officer Sidey was one of nine air force pilot trainees from No.14 Squadron putting their skills to the test in Otago recently, conducting flights out of Dunedin International Airport.
The pilot trainees were joined by 10 instructors and more than 25 supporting personnel for this year’s Exercise Wise Owl, a two-week pilot-training exercise focusing on formation flying in the T-6C Texan II aircraft.
After graduating from Christchurch Boys’ High School and joining the air force in 2009, Pilot Officer Sidey trained as an aircraft technician.
In that role he was deployed to more than 30 countries, including a month in Antarctica with the United States Air National Guard.
However, he always had a desire to fly and at the start of 2018 started his wings course.
While pilot trainees are usually stationed at Ohakea airbase, flying out of a different airfield during Exercise Wise Owl provided them with a unique challenge.
During the exercise they flew over Dunedin, Balclutha, Alexandra, Timaru, Oamaru, Te Anau, Manapouri, the Catlins, and Invercargill.
“When you factor in flying at up to 300 knots between 250 and 30,000 feet in close formation with another aircraft, navigating an unfamiliar environment offers a whole new dimension to our training,” he says.
“Having the opportunity to fly over other parts of the country and see the awesome scenery has also been extremely rewarding.”
While the wings course takes up most of his time, he still finds time to run ultramarathons and participate in target shooting, hunting, fishing and water sports.
Trainees aim to graduate by the end of the year, and will go on to fly either A109 helicopters or the King Air 350 aircraft.
As he nears the end of his training, he says he has no regrets about making the switch.
“Flying as part of the RNZAF has already been one of the highlights of my military career.
“Getting paid to train in what you are passionate about and having the opportunity to contribute to society in some epic roles makes all the hard work worth it.
“And you also make a lot of really awesome mates.”