Helicopter captain drops in at old school

Re-creating a memorable moment from childhood was the motivation behind a visit by a Royal New Zealand Air Force NH90 helicopter to Cromwell College yesterday.

Flight Lieutenant Tom McDowell landed with his crew on the college cricket grounds, in front of an appreciative group of pupils and teachers, plus members of his family.

He is a member of No3 Squadron of the Royal New Zealand Air Force at Base Ohakea, located near Bulls in the Manawatu.

He is the captain of one of the eight NH90 helicopters in the RNZAF fleet.

"Our main output is supporting the New Zealand Army with troop movement, so we can move 12 fully equipped soldiers at any one time."

Flight Lieutenant Tom McDowell treats Cromwell College pupils to a visit by the Royal New Zealand...
Flight Lieutenant Tom McDowell treats Cromwell College pupils to a visit by the Royal New Zealand Air Force NH90 helicopter he captains. PHOTO: SIMON HENDERSON
Ten years ago, Fl Lt McDowell was head boy at the college, and his visit yesterday was inspired by a childhood memory of a Seasprite Helicopter landing at the college when he was in year 11 or year 12.

"And that kind of sparked my interest in the air force."

He began pilot training at Wanaka Airport and after leaving school joined the air force. He had been a helicopter pilot for about five or six years, Fl Lt McDowell said.

"Ever since joining the air force I have always thought it would be quite cool to give something back to this school and show what can be achieved."

Fl Lt McDowell hoped the visit would be a source of inspiration for other pupils to see what could be achieved when you set your sights on your goals, he said.

As well as pupils and staff, family members including his parents, Robyn and Neville McDowell, and his grandmother, Dot McDowell, was at the college to see Fl Lt McDowell.

Mrs McDowell said being able to fly had been a passion for her son and as soon as he left school he pursued his goal.

"He got what he wanted, he wanted to be a pilot, then he wanted to be in the choppers and he got in the choppers."

The visit to Cromwell College was made possible because his crew had been in the Catlins supporting a search and rescue exercise with the local police as well as land search and rescue and were able to stop in before moving to an operation in Blenheim.

The crew were also able make a visit to Lumsden Primary School before coming to Cromwell College, he said.

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