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Former soldier earns wings in return to military

Former soldier Wiri Ironside-Mateparae took out some travel insurance to ensure he achieved his dream of becoming a pilot.

10 December, 2021

And his determination to fly won through as he passed the Air Force’s challenging Wings course and had his wings presented to him at a ceremony at Royal New Zealand Air Force Base Ohakea recently.

After growing up in Christchurch, Pilot Officer Ironside-Mateparae joined the New Zealand Army. He served for three-and-a-half years before the private’s eyes turned to the sky and he began thinking about a career change.

“I initially talked with a recruiter, who gave me some advice around how challenging it was to become a pilot and what I needed to do before applying,” he said. 

“I had only done half a degree at that point, so he said I had to finish my degree, do some travel and fly a plane or helicopter for an hour or so to see if I was still interested.” 

So over four years Pilot Officer Ironside-Mateparae started ticking those things off. 

“I finished my degree and I met my wife Ruth and we travelled to London and around Europe for a year. And I came back and worked in insurance and flew a helicopter for half an hour.

“I did those things because I still had the idea of becoming a pilot in mind. But I also gave insurance a go to see if working in the corporate world was something I wanted to do, but the draw of becoming a pilot was too strong.”

Being presented with his wings was momentous and felt like a huge achievement, the 31-year-old said. 

He trained on the T-6C Texan II training aircraft, but Pilot Officer Ironside-Mateparae knew he wanted to fly helicopters with No. 3 Squadron, so was thrilled when he was chosen to continue with the rotary section.

There were a few factors that made the squadron an attractive option, including the search and rescue work, he said.

“But the flying itself is appealing – I like the idea of flying in confined spaces and flying close to the terrain and around different environments, whether it’s around the Tararua Ranges, Waiouru or around the South Island.

“We did some low-level and mountain flying with the Texan during the course and it was some of my favourite flying.”