Airman returns to land after 39 years

Moving on . . . Royal New Zealand Air Force sergeant air loadmaster Paul Bryant spends his last day in the Royal New Zealand Air Force. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

He has lived and breathed aviation since he could walk, Paul Bryant says.

The former Gore High School pupil has recently retired from the industry after 13 years in the Royal New Zealand Air Force and 26 years working on rescue helicopters.

Mr Bryant, 57, said he would have done much better at school if he had not spent so much time looking out the window daydreaming about aeroplanes.

He always knew he would work in the aviation industry, ‘‘particularly the military side’’.

‘‘I was born to do this — this is me.’’

He was a keen member of the Gore Air Training Corps 28 Squadron when he was at high school.

‘‘I couldn’t get in that building quick enough on a Wednesday night.

‘‘It was in my blood.’’

His school friends were puzzled how he could spend his holidays at the former Wigram Air Force base completing courses but he loved the experience.

‘‘You were in the airmen’s mess with these guys eating meals and you were marching around the base and you’d see them and the helicopters and Skyhawks.

‘‘It just fuelled that passion in me of that’s where I want to go.’’

His parents Colin and Joan, who still live in Gore, were always very supportive of his plans, he said.

After leaving Gore High he was accepted into the air Force in 1984 and trained in safety and surface, two minor trades that were combined.

‘‘There’s a lot of hands-on skills that you learn.’’

One of his jobs was to mend parachutes so he learned how to sew.

He did this role for about five years and when the opportunity came up to take part in air crew training he applied for that.

Positions on air crews were highly sought after but his application to be an air loadmaster was successful.

He worked on Andover aircraft and his responsibility was to load freight and passengers.

Sometimes that involved paratroops and aerial cargo dropping.

‘‘At the age of 23 I was a sergeant which was very high rank for someone of that age.’’

In 1993 he went to Somalia for four months as part of New Zealand’s peacekeeping contribution.

‘‘It took us a week to get there in those aircraft.’’

The position of a helicopter crewman was next on his radar so when he came home from Somalia he applied for the training.

‘‘It was the most popular by far to be a helicopter crewman because you get to cruise around in helicopters all day.’’

He was one of the few successful applicants and he was a loadmaster in the air force’s Iroquois helicopters until 1997.

He really enjoyed the experience, and among other tasks learned to operate a rescue winch, live machine gunning and search and rescue operation.

The Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust approached the air force to find out if there were any personal who would like to join the rescue helicopter crew.

Mr Bryant decided it was a good move for him so once he won the position he left the air force.

Winching a patient into the rescue helicopter was very challenging.

‘‘You’ve got to talk at the same time you’re doing stuff.

‘‘Your brain has to be ahead of what your voice is doing.’’

He worked for the trust for 15 years before taking up a position in Nelson as chief crewman and was mostly involved in teaching others how to crew the helicopter.

‘‘I found it more rewarding than going on some of the missions.’’

He was chief crewman until June this year.

‘‘When I left I was the most experienced helicopter crewman in the country.’’

He had flown on more than 4000 missions on rescue helicopters and altogether clocked up more than 7500 hours of flying time since he was 17-years-old.

People would often comment how dangerous it was flying in a helicopter.

‘‘They don’t crash well and I’ve had some really close scrapes.

‘‘I got through 34 years [sic]. . . and bounced out the other end without a scratch.’’

His philosophy in life and advice to others was based on his own experience.

‘‘When these opportunities present themselves you need to grab them and make sure you can use them to get to where your end goal may be.’’

People should follow their dreams and not give up, he said.

This week he started a role as Nelson Tasman Hato Hone St John watch operations manager.

Special moment. . . Nelson Marlborough Rescue Helicopter Trust chief airman Paul Bryant and his wife Pauline pause for a photograph on Mr Bryant’s last day on the job. PHOTO: SUPPLED