11 March 2020
A posting to Christchurch to work on the New Zealand Defence Force’s (NZDF) annual resupply mission to Antarctica was all it took to get Canterbury man Adam Wilson hooked on the role of Air Loadmaster.
Air Loadmasters ensure cargo is loaded correctly on aircraft and during container air drops. They work with the Air Warfare Officers to release the load at the right moment over a target.
Sergeant Wilson is originally from Fairlie, where he attended Mackenzie College, then moved with his family to Hanmer Springs before returning to Fairlie.
He joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) in 2003, aged 19, looking for fresh challenges and travel.
He chose initially to become a firefighter and after basic training he completed his junior firefighter training at Woodbourne and then Linton, and was posted to RNZAF Base Auckland at Whenuapai.
From there he switched to the Safety and Surface trade based at Whenuapai, working predominantly in the Personnel Parachute Bay and Paint Bay.
During that time the highlights were multiple trips to Arizona, supporting the Parachute Training and Support Unit’s annual parachute jump training exercise there and becoming a qualified parachutist.
The opportunity to become an Air Loadmaster, working on the RNZAF C-130 Hercules aircraft, came at the right time for him.
“It’s not a trade with direct entry at recruitment,” he said. “The Air Force requires you to have a good background in other trades before you can apply.
“Travel was a big drawcard for me, with the opportunity to work on the operational side of the Air Force and to assist with humanitarian aid.”
Learning the new skills involved and being able to handle the pressures involved with the role was very demanding, he said.
“The biggest challenge is getting used to the compressed time frames and taking into account any last-minute changes that require fast recalculations. It’s a much more complex role and can be demanding during the learning phase.”
Sergeant Wilson has been honing his skills recently at an exercise at RNZAF Base Ohakea that incorporates tactical flying, night flying with night vision goggles and airdrops.
The training focused on flying into areas a conventional aircraft would avoid, such as battlefields or countries hit by a natural disaster, where power to airports could be out or roads are too damaged for supplies to reach residents.
Airdrops are a capability the RNZAF has used many times, with the most recent example in New Zealand coming after the Kaikoura earthquake, when a C-130 Hercules dropped loads of water to residents because the roads were impassable.
The exercise is vital training for Air Loadmasters, who work to ensure the safe delivery of containers that could be as long as 10 metres and weigh nearly 20,000 kilograms.
A further incentive for Sergeant Wilson to join the RNZAF at the time was the chance to play rugby for a supportive employer.
“Throughout my early years with the Air Force I played lots of rugby – league, union and touch – with the highlight being travelling to the United Kingdom to play in the New Zealand Defence Force Rugby League World Cup in 2013 and making the final against Australia,” he said.
Now, however, his sights are firmly on the sky in his new role.