Aucklander Pilots Air Force Mercy Flights in the Philippines
3 December 2013
Aucklander Pilots Air Force’s Mercy Flights in the Philippines
It was a case of love at first flight for Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) pilot Squadron Leader James Anderson.
When asked what attracted him to a career as a pilot, the RNZAF C-130 Hercules captain recalled the first time he took to the skies.
“In high school, we studied ‘flight’ and as part of that, we went flying in a light aircraft. I instantly fell in love with flying,” he said.
Encouraged by a friend and prompted by a passion for adventure, he decided to try his luck and applied to join the Air Force after graduating from Kelston Boys High School.
Recently deployed to the central Philippines city of Cebu as part of New Zealand’s 24-member humanitarian contingent, Squadron Leader Anderson piloted the RNZAF C-130 Hercules that delivered around 500 tonnes of food, water and emergency shelter to people affected by the November 8 super storm.
The RNZAF aircraft also evacuated about 1100 survivors eager to leave Typhoon Haiyan’s trail of devastation and suffering.
For him, “the highlight of the mission was seeing the smile on people’s faces as they left our aircraft in Cebu,” one of few areas in the Philippines’ Visayas region that escaped the wrath of the storm and where survivors are being evacuated.
“Many of them personally thanked the crew and it was obvious that there were many relieved families brought out of the stricken areas.”
Squadron Leader Anderson personifies the Kiwis’ much-vaunted ‘can do’ attitude as he skilfully landed the Hercules in the Philippines’ typhoon-damaged airfields and coped with the intense heat.
“Working in 30-plus-degree heat for more than 12 hours a day means that you’re exhausted by the end of it. But after a good night’s sleep, everyone is recharged to do it all again.”
The other downside to going on operations such as the one to the Philippines is being away from his seven-month-old daughter for weeks.
“But seeing the difference we can make by evacuating so many small children and families from the devastated areas makes it all worthwhile.”
Squadron Leader Anderson grew up in the suburb of Te Atatu South in western Auckland. His father served in the New Zealand Army for 20 years and his brother is a police officer.
He has flown many types of aircraft, including the military trainer Aermacchi, the King Air, the Iroquois and Sioux helicopters, the Tiger Moth and the Skyhawk.
“If anyone was remotely interested in a career in aviation, I would wholeheartedly recommend they consider joining the Air Force,” he said.
“It’s hard work but if flying in the mountains of Afghanistan, landing on ice in Antarctica, distributing aid to a stricken nation, flying at low level and air-dropping supplies to people on the ground, and flying around the world sound like fun, then there’s only one place you’ll do all that and more.”