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School to Skies alumni take flight with air force

Two years after taking part in the inaugural School to Skies programme in 2017, Pilot Officer Ali McKain and Aircraftman Maddie Scott recently marched out together in a combined graduation parade at Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) Base Woodbourne.

The Air Force was just one of many options available to the former Auckland women in their senior high school years, but the eye-opening experience of School to Skies left other possible careers by the wayside.

The School to Skies programme, which ran for its third year in 2019, gives young women from around the country exposure to and understanding of RNZAF technical and aviation trades through hands-on learning.

“To be honest, I didn’t really know a huge amount about the Air Force, but after spending five days on base and meeting lots of personnel, I was sold 100% from that point forward,” said Pilot Officer McKain.

In Year 13 at Rangitoto College at the time, she applied for the RNZAF straight out of school but spent a gap year working through the recruitment process for officer training.

A year younger, Aircraftman Scott was in Year 12 at Westlake Girls, and despite not really knowing what the Air Force was all about before School to Skies, said that “afterwards, I knew it was what I definitely wanted to do”.

Both women say the RNZAF wasn’t what they expected – it was much better.

“Because School to Skies is an all-girls course, we didn’t have a lot of exposure to the gender ratio in the Air Force, so coming in I was quite apprehensive about how I’d fit in,” Pilot Officer McKain said.



“But I’ve loved every minute - the content and approach to teaching is really progressive and the instructors model what they teach, interacting with us and building relationships based on open and honest communication.”

Aircraftman Scott said she learnt a lot about herself during training. “You get pushed in lots of different ways, and I can do things I didn’t think I could do before.”

She will stay at RNZAF Base Woodbourne now that she has graduated to commence training for her dream job as an Aircraft Technician.

“When I went on School to Skies that was the trade that really stood out for me,” she said.

Meanwhile, Pilot Officer McKain is heading up to Base Auckland to work in the Tactical Operations Centre while she waits for her two year pilot training to start in April at RNZAF Base Ohakea.

“You’re never going to know what the Air Force is like unless you give it a try,” she said. “Just throw yourself into it and you’ll probably find that it’ll be the best decision you’ll ever make.”

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