The career instructor
When it comes to teaching pilots to fly, I don’t think you will find anyone who discounts the benefits which come with an experienced instructor, to have someone who has flown a large range of aircraft, who has taught and mentored a wide variety of students and who has made a career from instructing.
Retaining career instructors has always been a problem within the aviation industry, and any flight training establishment with an experienced person at the helm is very fortunate.
I was recently talking with Roger Cruickshank, and it quickly became apparent that he has a passion for teaching and has made this his career of choice. Roger is an A category instructor and has been CFI at the Waikato Aero Club since 2004.
Thanks to his grandfather’s keen interest in all things aviation, Roger was introduced to the local aero club scene from the tender age of about four. Although his grandfather was not a pilot, he was an early member of the Middle Districts Aero Club at Palmerston North. Once a year, Roger’s grandfather would haul all the grandchildren out to the aerodrome, where he had organised his pilot friends to take them flying, usually in a Cessna 180 or 172.
One of Roger’s earliest memories is as a little boy, sitting on his sister’s knee in the aeroplane with Brian Milne at the controls. Roger recalls that his first introduction to flying hadn’t been much to his liking — “I was bawling my eyes out” — until the wheels left the ground. Just being up in the air still holds the same fascination for him today.
As a teenager, the attraction of the local airfield started to take hold. Roger found himself, like many young boys in his day, hanging out around the aircraft in the school holidays and weekends. It was his lucky day when he was offered a ride in a C185 with local topdressing pilot Barry Sait. This led to his introduction into sweeping the hangar floor and washing aeroplanes.
Roger’s desire to fly grew, and he soloed as a 16-year-old. Then he gained his PPL at 17 while training in the club’s new Victa Airtourers, ZK-CWE and ZK-CJX.
Roger smiles as he remembers how there were a few young fellows hanging around at the time, watching the “old” pilots like hawks and learning about good airmanship and correct aviation etiquette. Looking back now, he thinks that many of the men were out at the airfield for the same reasons as the young boys — to get away from home. Having a gaggle of boys hanging around was probably not what they wanted, but the young ones certainly benefited from many of these role models.
On leaving school, Roger had no real idea what he wanted to do as a career. He definitely loved to fly but it wasn’t immediately apparent to him that this was how he wanted to earn a living. He undertook an apprenticeship with Fieldair, working in its hangar on DC-3s, Beavers and Fletchers, and followed this with a position at Air Spares with Frank Brittain, as a storeman, before taking up an engineering role with James Aviation at Palmerton North.
He stayed with James for about 10 years, working on a wide variety of aircraft, collecting a FU24 type rating, about 30hr stick time in Hiller UH 12E helicopters and a dose of good hands-on operating from some of the easier farm strips.
He steadily built hours and experience by towing gliders, club competition flying and recalls being a member of the champion New Zealand formation flying team one year. He flew whenever and whatever he could. He was a member of the Middle Districts Aero Club before it changed to the Manawatu Districts Aero Club and served on the committee for many years. He was the youngest committee member at the time and believes he learned much useful stuff (which still applies today) from watching how things were done back then.
As happens with most young people, Roger soon found himself married with a young family and a mortgage. Money became tight for flying, but a new opportunity arose at Palmerston North with Air New Zealand which was operating Boeing 737s at the time and was short staffed for the night turnaround crew. A retiring colleague handed Roger the chance to take a full-time role with Air New Zealand and a new chapter of flying began. His wife Leanne recognised how much Roger wanted to fly and suggested he get on down to Motueka and earn himself a CPL.
He was also coming under increasing pressure from some of his peers, aero club instructors and Brian Milne (retired at this stage). Brian suggested that Roger had better get on with it.
This was really the beginning of his flying career, so it was off to the Commercial Pilot School at Motueka, run by Walter Wagtendonk. Roger feels that Wally’s teaching style really clicked with him. “I learned a hell of a lot from Wally and I owe him huge thanks.”
With a new CPL under his belt, it suddenly dawned on Roger that he had to do something with it. The aero club had a little J3 Cub and no one else with much tailwheel experience to instruct in it, so Roger was persuaded to get a D category instructor’s rating and began teaching pilots who wanted a tailwheel endorsement. To this day Roger still credits the influence of CFI Graham Young and ag pilot Hallett Griffin for helping to mould him into the pilot he is today.
With about 800hr in his logbook he began to study for his C category instructor’s rating with Mike Tucker. Roger remembers it being a tough period as he had not been a student for many years and was balancing work and family commitments at the same time. He passed this test and began part-time instructing at the aero club, also doing most of its banner towing work for a long period of time, pipeline surveying and charter flying. Along the way he picked up many new qualifications, including multi-engine instrument and basic gas turbine ratings and eventually a B category instructor’s rating.
In the mid 1990s Roger’s job at Air New Zealand came to an end when he was made redundant. He went on to a full-time job at the Manawatu Districts Aero Club as an instructor. But this too ended in redundancy after only 12 months and Roger went back to part-time instructing work.
The chance to try something new came along and Roger and his family moved to New Plymouth where he managed a rental car company for a couple of years. He picked up flying work as a pilot for a parachuting company and kept the flying bug alive.
While talking to Harry Scott and Brian O’Hagan, Roger was encouraged to apply for a position with Alan Breen at the Waikato Aero Club. This was the opportunity he needed to really develop his passion for teaching and skills as a pilot. His time at Hamilton was consolidated when he took over the position as CFI with the departure of Alan to Eagle Air in 2004.
Roger recalls having a lot of fun as a B cat, but in 2009 he decided to push himself a little more and try for the top instructing achievement which comes with an A category rating. There was encouragement at the time from some other senior instructors and he understood there was a need for more of the mature instructors to step up to this level.
Having a strong base of experienced career instructors is important to the future of New Zealand aviation, and Roger is concerned that many young pilots see instructing as a second-best career option. There is such a strong emphasis being placed on airline flying as the preferred career path that many young pilots don’t consider instructing as a long-term option.
His role at the Waikato Aero Club is busy and varied. The club runs commercial training courses and teaches students right through from PPL to multi instrument and instructor ratings. Roger enjoys working with these young people and watching them move into the industry. He also recognises the need to foster recreational flying and to maintain this as the foundation of the club. Waikato has recently made a move into LSAs with the purchase of a couple of new Tecnams, and these are proving to be popular with members.
Since moving to Hamilton, Roger has been able to take on another role which he finds most enjoyable. He gets to production test fly the PAC P-750 XSTOL and CT4 for Pacific Aerospace. This experience has seen him carry out ferry flights overseas and assist operators with continuation training and New Zealand licence endorsements on the P-750 XSTOL. He has made a delivery flight from New Zealand to Cairns, a 30hr flight from Kuala Lumpur to New South Wales, from Italy to Switzerland and on to Berlin. He has also flown in Sweden, South Africa and from Cambodia to Singapore and return. Roger enjoyed the detailed planning involved with these flights through foreign countries and looks forward to more opportunities in the future.
One thing Roger Cruickshank still enjoys is going flying for fun. He loves to get out of uniform and join in with friends at fly-ins. His aircraft of choice is anything with a tailwheel and he has a particular fondness for the DHC-2 Beaver, largely thanks to his wife Leanne, who arranged a birthday gift flight with Hallett Griffin. This would be one aircraft he would have in his dream hangar.
But Roger has no real bias or particular preference when it comes to aircraft choice. If it has wings and flies, then he his happy with that! He appreciates that he has had the opportunity to fly such a wide variety of aircraft and with so many great people. It is testament to his passion that he still loves to fly today as much as he did when he was a 17-year-old.
- Report and photographs by Neroli Henwood
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