Trainee pilots waiting for clear skies

STACEY KNOTT
Last updated 12:24 05/05/2014
 Royal New Zealand Air Force trainee pilots
MARTIN DE RUYTER/FAIRFAX NZ
DEVELOPING THEIR WINGS: Royal New Zealand Air Force trainee pilots Gareth Evans, left, and Mark Chapman at the Exercise Wiseowl camp at Nelson Airport.

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Student pilots have set up camp at Nelson Airport. Now they just need their planes to arrive.

About 100 Royal New Zealand Air Force personnel have descended on Nelson, and will be based at a field camp while the trainee pilots take to the skies to get flying experience.

The tent city, set up on the airfield over the weekend, is the base for Exercise Wiseowl.

The exercise is part of every air force pilot training course, and is held at centres throughout the country to give the trainees experience in operating from a field base.

Personnel from RNZAF Base Ohakea are taking part in the 10-day exercise, including 14 trainee pilots.

They were due to start their training today, but bad weather this morning meant they were waiting for the six Airtrainer planes to arrive from Ohakea.

The trainees will fly up to 32 sorties a day, often in close formations. They will be airborne for about an hour each time, at least once a day.

Air force chaplain Chris Purdie said most of the training flights would take place southwest of Nelson.

"It's a lot of work to do. They have some targets to get through."

The 40-tent camp includes sleeping quarters and a field kitchen and dining area. Purdie said it took two to three days to set up the camp, which was self-sustaining.

He said each trainee pilot had already chalked up 35 to 45 flying hours, and usually would have 100 by the time they moved on to the next training level, where they would learn to fly a twin-engined plane.

There are 10 instructors well as support staff at the field base, including mechanics, firefighters, those working in the field kitchen, and military police.

Purdie said the air force looked for a high standard of pilots, and only half the trainees would make the grade.

Pilot under training Mark Chapman has completed the first course and is at the camp as one of the support personnel.

He said he had wanted to be an air force pilot since he was 14. "It's a really great team environment and you meet great people." He expected to have about 200 hours of flying experience by the time he graduated early next year.

He said the air force had put him through university, and he was bonded to it for 10 years. He studied political science and international relations at Victoria University.

The camp will be open to the public on Saturday between 10.30am and 2pm.

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