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Swapping sky for sea

Aircraft technician Corporal Michael Johnston is taking a year’s leave from working on Seasprite helicopters to turn his skills to an Emirates Team New Zealand high performance racing yacht that will be competing in this year’s America’s Cup.

14 March, 2024

“My role is within a team that is responsible for the upkeep and day-to-day maintenance and running of the hydraulics system of the team’s AC40 race yacht,” he says.

“Everything that moves on the boat is through a hydraulic ram and it’s not too alien in terms of aircraft hydraulics. There are different systems, but the physics is all the same.”

After starting the role late last year, Corporal Johnston’s secondment with Emirates Team New Zealand will finish a couple of weeks after the end of the America’s Cup competition, which will be held in Spain. Working with the prestigious sailing team has been a challenging experience that has been really beneficial, he said.

“It’s a hectic but dynamic place to work, with big hours, but it’s cool and there’s a big team. We’re all working towards a goal and we all help each other out.

“Day to day is pretty varied, but when they go sailing I do checks in the morning and then I’ll go out on a chase boat behind the yacht while it’s sailing, monitoring pressures and temperatures. When they stop I go on board and look to see if anything needs to be fixed.

“And similar once it returns – I work with the rest of the shore team to complete departmental checks and maintain systems. In that way the boat is similar to our aircraft, everything needs to be well looked after,” he says.

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Images: James Somerset, Emirates Team New Zealand

At the end of June CPL Johnston will travel with the team to Barcelona for about four months, ahead of the Louis Vuitton Cup and the America’s Cup, which start in August and finish in October.

His Air Force career has mean CPL Johnston was able to bring with him transferable skills that suited working on a complex yacht.

“A big thing is just general mechanical skills. I came in and worked straight away with rams, pipes, nuts and bolts. Those skills are bread and butter in the Air Force,” he sauys. “Also being able to perform thorough inspections and paying attention to details were skills I brought with me.

“In terms of maintenance I was able to bring across a fair amount of discipline that I developed in the Air Force. Especially with Emirates Team New Zealand where there is high pressure and low tolerance for mistakes. With the aircraft there is no room for error and it’s a similar situation here.”

The fast pace of working with Emirates Team New Zealand has also provided CPL Johnston with some valuable skills that he will be able to bring back to No. 6 Squadron, he says.

“It’s a really unique job and it’s great to work on equipment that’s used in the yacht that performs at the pinnacle of the sport.”