17 October 2019
Hastings man Lachie Huddleston has swapped driving tractors for flying planes as a trainee pilot in the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF)
Pilot Officer Huddleston was one of nine RNZAF pilot trainees from No. 14 Squadron putting their skills to the test in Otago recently, conducting flights out of Dunedin International Airport.
The pilot trainees were joined by 10 instructors and more than 25 supporting personnel for this year’s Exercise Wise Owl, a two-week pilot-training exercise focussing on formation flying in the T-6C Texan II aircraft.
After leaving Lindisfarne College, Pilot Officer Huddleston drove tractors for a living, then travelled Europe for six months and spent two months working in Nepal. In 2017 he decided to follow in the footsteps of both of his grandfathers, who served in the RNZAF, and began his military training.
He had always had an interest in flying, and at the beginning of 2018 started his Wings course to become a pilot.
“A day on Wings course is full of learning,” Pilot Officer Huddleston said. “A typical flight will require a lot of prep time reading manuals and procedures, as well as briefing and debriefing pre and post flight.”
The pilot trainees are usually stationed at RNZAF Base Ohakea and Exercise Wise Owl is designed to provide them with the unique challenges of flying out of a different airfield. During the exercise they flew over Dunedin, Balclutha, Alexandra, Timaru, Oamaru, Te Anau, Manapouri, the Catlins, and Invercargill.
Fourteen formation flights were scheduled across the exercise, most of which involved an instructor and trainee flying in each aircraft. However, from the 10th formation flight the trainees fly solo, an important milestone in their training.
Pilot Officer Huddleston said his first solo formation flight was his favourite flight so far on the course.
“Being able to practise formation flying on my own made it such an awesome flight.”
The pilot trainees aim to graduate from their Wings course by the end of the year, and will go on to fly either A109 helicopters or King Air 350 aircraft.
For Pilot Officer Huddleston, it is a privilege to fly as a job.
“The Air Force offers such a range of unique roles that are both challenging and rewarding,” he said. “And the people are awesome.”