Pi­lot on high

Feilding-Rangitikei Herald - - Front Page - SAM KILMISTER

A young pi­lot flew high above his peers at the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s Texan II grad­u­a­tion.

Eight pilots from Num­ber 14 Squadron be­came the first to re­ceive their wings on the T-6C Texan II train­ers at the Ohakea Air Force Base, near Bulls, on Fri­day.

Pi­lot Of­fi­cer An­drew Sledger re­ceived all three top awards – the Baigent Me­mo­rial Shield for ex­cep­tional re­sults dur­ing train­ing, the de Lange tro­phy for the high­est marks from pi­lot train­ing and the Wi­gram tro­phy for aca­demic ex­cel­lence.

The Baigent Me­mo­rial Shield has only been awarded six times since 1955.

Oth­ers who grad­u­ated were Flight Lieu­tenant Paul Robin­son, fly­ing of­fi­cers Mickey Cr­is­ford, Mag­nus Hold­ing, Robert Kenyon, Tom Peter­son, and pi­lot of­fi­cers James Ersk­ine and Corey Fothergill.

The Num­ber 14 Squadron was formed in 1942 as the air force’s first fighter unit, but was turned into a train­ing squadron in 1972.

It was dis­banded in 2001 and reestab­lished with the in­tro­duc­tion of the T-6C Texan II train­ers in 2015.

Be­fore be­ing turned into a train­ing squadron it was de­ployed into sev­eral the­atres of war.

Sledger, 20, ap­plied to the air force dur­ing his fi­nal year at Hamil­ton Boys’ High School af­ter join­ing his lo­cal aero club and air cadets when he was 15.

‘‘I thought that was pretty cool. Up un­til then I hadn’t even con­sid­ered [the air force] as an op­tion,’’ he said.

‘‘When I joined up I wanted to fly Her­cules. At this stage, I’m happy to keep mov­ing, keep go­ing up. There’s re­ally good ca­reer pro­gres­sion, so we’ll see.’’

He be­gan train­ing in Jan­uary 2015 and has de­cided to fly fixed­wing air­craft.

The group be­gan its jour­ney at Wood­bourne, near Blen­heim, be­fore stints in Auck­land and Ohakea.

It will now join Num­ber 42 Squadron for fur­ther train­ing be­fore be­ing posted to larger, multi-en­gine air­craft in the fu­ture.

Chief of Air Force Air ViceMar­shal Tony Davies con­grat­u­lated the grad­u­ates, but said their jour­ney had just be­gun.

‘‘I was once asked how long it takes to be­come a pi­lot in the air force. Well, the train­ing never re­ally stops,’’ he said.

He chal­lenged the pilots to grow, learn and lead, and take ev­ery op­por­tu­nity pre­sented.

PHOTO: DAVID UN­WIN/STUFF

Pi­lot Of­fi­cer An­drew Sledger re­ceives the Baigent Me­mo­rial Shield.

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