An award that recognises Nelson pilot Jim Wilson as a doyen of the international helicopter industry is the icing on the cake of a 45-year career in aviation.
The HNZ Group chief pilot has been presented the London-based Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators master's award for the New Zealand region at a special function in Wellington.
Air Marshal Clifford Spink said the award recognised Mr Wilson's leadership and influence on international standards for helicopter operations in the most extreme conditions, and the credit that brought the New Zealand aviation industry.
Mr Wilson, 70, who joined HNZ 36 years ago, said it was "very nice" to receive recognition for a long and event-filled career in aviation, which began with the Royal New Zealand Air Force in 1959 when he started as an aircraft engine fitter.
He then took it on himself to gain his private pilot's licence, learning to fly in a Tiger Moth and an Oster, and by 1965 had gained his instructor rating, and flew part-time with the Marlborough Aero Club.
Mr Wilson said his love of flying began when he took his first flight at the age of 12, in the hopper of a Tiger Moth his uncle flew on aerial top-dressing jobs. He became hooked on helicopters after a career change in 1967 when he left the air force and joined Whanganui-based Alexander Helicopters, which is no longer in operation.
"The helicopter world offers a lot more diversity in operations than fixed-wing aircraft, from deer shooting to mining, agriculture, oil and the scientific work in Antarctica with various government agencies."
Mr Wilson has had "one or two" close calls; the most memorable being the time he ditched his helicopter in Cook Strait when the chopper's engine failed.
"It was on my 40th birthday as well. I was flying a Hughes 500 from Masterton to Blenheim and the engine failed above Cloudy Bay, and I went into the drink.
"There was a Friendship [former NAC aircraft] behind me who heard my mayday call and relayed it, but I was in the water for 45 minutes before I was picked up."
He said colleague Phil Melza, who was in Blenheim waiting for him, flew out to collect him in another helicopter, which Mr Wilson clambered aboard after climbing on to the skid as it hovered over him.
Mr Wilson joined John Reid at Helicopters New Zealand as a line pilot in 1975 and became chief pilot in 1978, after a six-month season in the Canadian Arctic. At age 70 he remains chief pilot, and a "prominent member" of the gym which helps him keep fit enough to pass his six-monthly medical checks.
He has spent 17 seasons in the Antarctic and has planned, trained and supervised Antarctic support programmes for German, Italian, Norwegian, Japanese and American clients since 1979.
The guild's trophies and awards co-ordinator, Gordon Ragg, said Mr Wilson was regarded internationally as a doyen of the helicopter industry, with an impeccable safety record that "speaks for itself".
- © Fairfax NZ News