Pilot on high
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.
Pilot Officer Andrew Sledger receives the Baigent Memorial Shield.