3 May 2019
Corporal Britney Shirriffs had a fantastic way of getting to work on a recent mission overseas.
A Helicopter Loadmaster with the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s (RNZAF) No.3 Squadron, Corporal Shirriffs spent most days recently flying as she helped transport election officials and voting material to remote communities in Solomon Islands.
The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) sent 55 personnel and two RNZAF NH90 helicopters to Solomon Islands to provide support for the country’s general election in April. The NZDF personnel were part of a Combined Task Group led by the Australian Defence Force.
“It was so rewarding supporting the Solomon Islands authorities,” Corporal Shirriffs said of the deployment.
One of her memorable experiences was the flight to Choiseul Island, 426 kilometres northwest of the capital Honiara, when they transported Solomon Islands Electoral Commission officials.
“I took a soccer ball to give to the local children,” she said. “They were ecstatic – a couple of kids demonstrated their skills for us before we had a group photo.”
During a flight to San Cristobal island, 237 kilometres southeast of Honiara, villagers helped move drums of fuel that were used to refuel the NH90 helicopters.
“The locals were happy to get involved with aircraft operations,” she said.
Corporal Shirriffs was born in Palmerston North and grew up in Feilding.
In her senior year at Feilding High School she and a classmate joined about 40 other students from Manawatu in a week-long orientation programme at RNZAF Base Ohakea.
“The programme gave us an opportunity to know more about the different trades in the Air Force and the work of the various squadrons. We also did a number of interesting challenges, such as pulling a King Air aircraft on to the runway with a length of rope.”
“Before the week was over, I had made up my mind about joining the Air Force.”
However, it took another year before Corporal Shirriffs finally enlisted in the RNZAF, in January 2013.
“The first time I applied they advised me to gain some life experience first. So I went to Australia to work and after six months applied again.”
After completing basic training, she worked as a Logistics Specialist for the Supply Chain Squadron at RNZAF Base Auckland. After three years, she trained to become a Helicopter Loadmaster and qualified in 2016.
“I changed trades because I wanted to be more involved in day-to-day operations,” she said.
“Being a Helicopter Loadmaster is a fantastic environment to be in. Some days you respond to search and rescue call-outs and other emergencies. Other times you are sent overseas for exercises or operations.”
One of her memorable missions so far was a search and rescue call-out to find a tramper stranded in the Tararua Ranges in April 2018.
“The areas where we winched the search and rescue teams had steep drops either side. Unfortunately, because of the low cloud we were unable to get them up to the hut where the missing tramper had taken shelter, so they had a fairly steep climb until they reached him.”