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Keeping the helicopters humming

Lincoln’s Caitlin Early trained for a career in film and music, but her childhood holiday haunt Wānaka will provide the stage and the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) the soundtrack as aviation buffs return to Warbirds Over Wanaka this Easter.

26 March, 2024

The 26-year-old avionics mechanic says working at Wānaka will be like coming home.

“I’m looking forward to seeing all the aircraft and Wānaka is so beautiful, I used to go there a lot as a kid in the school holidays,” she said.

On leaving school she earned a degree in film and music, before Covid-19 arrived and she made what she called the “drastic” choice to pivot and enlist in the military.

“My sister was a medic in the New Zealand Army and I saw what great training and opportunities she got, so when Covid hit I made the move.”

She is now part of RNZAF No. 6 Squadron, which looks after the Seasprite helicopters for the Royal New Zealand Navy.

It’s the first time Aircraftman Early has attended the Wānaka air show with the RNZAF and she is looking forward to returning to her home ground.

“I’ll be on the flight line and working on ground maintenance at Warbirds. On the flight line, I’m working with the aircraft when it’s flying, refuelling, marshalling, dispatching and daily servicing.

“Marshalling is pretty fun and I love working with the aircraft when it’s in a state of operation.”

AC Early 2

Aircraftman Caitlin Early is loving being in the thick of supporting operations for the RNZAF’s Seasprite helicopters

Aircraftman Early said she enjoyed working on Seasprite helicopters.

“I love working with my hands and you’re always working with a great bunch of people.  The Air Force gave me the opportunity to do something completely new and I found something I love that I didn’t anticipate.

“I was terrified wondering if it was for me, but the support is there to learn and everyone is here to teach you,” she said.

Aircraftman Early also hopes to deploy to sea with the Navy, once she finishes her senior training.

The biennial Warbirds Over Wanaka was last held in 2018 before Covid-19 cancelled the 2020 and 2022 events.

Squadron Leader Jim Rankin is the RNZAF Air Display Director and said it was exciting to be back in Wānaka after a six-year break.

The show was about more than celebrating aircraft in the air, he said.

“The role demonstrations and handling displays are a chance to practise and sharpen the flying skills required to operate our aircraft across the range of outputs.”

Whenever an aircraft was airborne it required more than just aircrew to fly it – it required technical staff to maintain the airframes, logisticians, refuellers, security forces and firefighters, he said.

“Everyone has a part to play in delivering our military air operations and a deployment such as Wānaka is just like any other military exercise.”