Firefighter To Pilot With Air Force Career
When Flight Lieutenant Mickey Crisford was studying for a Bachelor of Arts at Auckland University, joining the Royal New Zealand Air Force wasn’t part of the plan.
Fast forward almost sixteen years and the 36-year-old’s gone from fighting fires to crewing helicopters and finally to co-piloting the C-130H Hercules.
The North Shore native, who went to Westlake Boys’ High, Flight Lieutenant Crisford said, “I began in the Air Force as a firefighter which I did for three and a half years.
I was doing some monsoon bucket training and I saw the helicopter load master hanging out the side of the helicopter and I thought, ‘Who’s that dude?’ I registered my interest and we went from there”.
Helicopter loadmasters are responsible for securing the back of the helicopter, helping the pilot manoeuvre the aircraft through confined areas and controlling the winch.
“I did a few search and rescue call outs,” said Crisford, “If someone’s got lost often there’s bad weather and you’re operating in difficult conditions. When it’s been successful it doesn’t really set in until you land and do a crew debrief that you’ve actually achieved something.
That is kind of why you want to do the job; it’s instinctive in most military people that they want to help out others for the greater good.”
After eight years as a helicopter load master, Flight Lieutenant Crisford took the challenge of piloting next.
“Some of my close mates were pilots and they kept whispering oh you should give it a crack. I always thought to myself ‘yeah why not’, if I didn’t at least try, it wouldn’t always be a monkey on my back. All the guys and girls who do the pilot training are usually a bit younger than I was and have come straight from a learning institute. For me it had been a long time since I had been in that environment. I ended up doing some studying with Open Polytechnic to help with my prep for the training.”
After 18 months of intensive training on the “Wings” course, Flight Lieutenant Crisford qualified as a Royal New Zealand Air Force pilot.
“First time I flew solo was just awesome because it’s the first time no one is watching your back, it’s all you. After all the training and practice I felt really ready.
“The opportunities that the Air Force gives you is just beyond anything you could get with any other job. I’ve had three unique careers and got to work with great people.
“Ultimately you are doing something to help out the wider community in New Zealand which is pretty rewarding in itself.
“Even if you don’t become a pilot there are heaps of other jobs and loads of opportunities to expand and grow.”