Rescue helicopter team inspires budding young pilot

When Georgia Colvin turned up at the Eastland Helicopter Rescue Trust hangar with a Christmas chocolate cake she was already mates with members of the Trust Tairāwhiti Eastland Rescue Helicopter team.

When Georgia Colvin turned up at the Eastland Helicopter Rescue Trust hangar with a Christmas chocolate cake she was already mates with members of the Trust Tairāwhiti Eastland Rescue Helicopter team.

“My sister Sophie works for St John and she brought me to meet the team, who have all been so welcoming,” she says.

“They’ve taken the time to show me around and talk about things that might be useful for my own career, and I’m really grateful for that.”

A student at Campion College, 14-year-old Georgia has a strong interest in aviation and initially thought she might train as a crewman.

“But then I got talking to Mike (pilot Mike Fitzgerald) and that got me thinking I’d really like to fly helicopters,” she says.

“So that’s what I’m hoping to shoot for in three years’ time when I finish school.”

Georgia’s dad Tim Colvin – who, coincidentally, helps provide tech services for the Eastland Rescue Helicopter – says the service has become a big passion for his daughter, who likes to visit other bases whenever she gets the chance.

“She got chatting to one pilot who said her best options for training were either private or with the New Zealand Air Force, so right now she’s got her eye on the Air Force,” he says.

“She’s also talked to some female Air Force pilots who gave her some great advice and encouragement. What she ends up doing is up to her, but it would be amazing to see her living her dream.”

Finding those female pilots would not have been easy . . . figures from 2018 – the latest available from Statistics NZ – show that of the 534 helicopter pilots working in New Zealand at the time, just 18 (3.38 percent) were women.

That’s been changing as training schools have been actively encouraging women to learn to fly.

In 2021 the Royal New Zealand Navy graduated its first woman helicopter pilot.

And the Royal New Zealand Air Force is doing its bit with the School To Skies programme it created in 2017 to address a lack of diversity within its ranks,

But the camps, roadshows, programmes and resources are not just to help meet RNZAF meet its goal of 25 percent female representation across STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) roles. According to Squadron Leader Lisa Eavestaff, “it’s about getting more diversity into STEM and aviation roles throughout society”.

School To Skies camps are generally open to girls in Year 13 and Georgia Colvin is just starting in Year 10, but she has plans to lay the groundwork for a possible career.

“Our school has projects for community and work experience so I’m hoping to use that time to do something with helicopters,” she says. “I’ll do anything to learn as much as I can.”

Even if she does qualify as a pilot, however, it will be some time before she would be ready to fly rescue helicopters.

Pilots at the Eastland Rescue Helicopter base are employed by Search & Rescue Services Ltd, the company formed by five North Island trusts (including the Eastland Helicopter Rescue Trust) to manage ops across eight bases.

SRSL requires its pilots to have thousands of PIC (pilot-in-command) flying hours including in challenging conditions, such as in cloud and over mountainous terrain.

That’s in addition to skills including – but not limited to – flying under Instrument Flight Rules; flying under night Visual Flight Rules; flying with Night Vision Goggles; in safety management; in flying various aircraft; in handling passengers, crew resources, and dangerous goods; in underwater escape techniques; and in emergency medicine.

But Georgia is determined to get there and says, should she reach that skill level, she’d definitely consider returning to her home town.

“The Eastland Rescue Helicopter team have been a huge inspiration for me,” she says.

“If I ever get the chance it would be amazing to come back to Gisborne to do the work that they do.”

CAPTION: INSPIRATION STATION: Meeting Trust Tairāwhiti Eastland Rescue Helicopter pilot Mike Fitzgerald helped Gisborne student Georgia Colvin hone in on her own career ambitions