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Busting movie stereotypes, making the right move for a career in the Air

Taking part in the Air Force’s School to Skies programme showed Pilot Officer Ali McKain that being part of the military is nothing like movie stereotypes.

23 November, 2021

The 21-year-old from Waiwera, north of Auckland, has recently graduated from the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s Wings course as a pilot. It was a career she never imagined taking on.

“I was very apprehensive about applying to become a pilot; there was a lot of self-doubt. I never in a million years thought I was going to make it and I was very intimidated by the challenge of the Wings course,” she said.

“It was my dad who convinced me to take the shot because he said I wouldn’t want to spend the rest of my life wondering if I could have. He more or less told me to stop being a wuss and put my name down.”

But it was the School to Skies programme that helped Pilot Officer McKain understand what life would be like in the Air Force.

“I didn’t have a huge insight into what New Zealand Defence Force life was like – my expectations had been strung together watching gung-ho American war movies, where the war heroes who were depicted, far from represented me. I have always been a bit of a nerd, super uncoordinated and not at all athletic. I thought I would never fit in,” she said.

“When I went to School to Skies and met a great range of airmen, I realised they were just normal people. There was a hugely diverse range of individuals who found a role to suit them and a way that they could showcase their strengths and work with their passions." ~ Pilot Officer Ali McKain

Pilot Officer Ali McKain graduated the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s Wings course as a pilot.

“I wanted to do something different and exciting that would push me and this definitely ticked all those boxes. Joining the Air Force forced me outside of my comfort zone, which was challenging and at the time I didn’t always love it. But it has truly been the most incredible experience. My advice to everyone, do something that scares you, you will never stagnate.”

Pilot Officer McKain will now train on the A109 helicopters at No. 3 Squadron, which was also her father’s influence. 

“The whole idea of being a pilot started because of my dad. He came back from a hunting trip in the South Island where he was flown into the alps by a young female pilot. He thought that was pretty cool and said, ‘That could be you! You should learn to fly choppers and then you can drop me in to go hunting’.“

Pilot Officer McKain is looking forward to the search and rescue missions, which are “potentially life changing for people”.

“No. 3 Squadron get to do some awesome flying. I am absolutely fizzing to operate in the mountains and see more of our beautiful country,” she said.