A Tauranga woman is the first female to quality as a NH90 pilot in the Royal New Zealand Air Force.
Otumoetai College alumna Penny Khull is the first female pilot to fly the medium utility helicopter for the New Zealand Defence Force and is currently on deployment in Fiji.
Seeing Fijian children waving and shaking hands with grateful villagers through the cockpit window of the NH90 were among the highlights so far in Flight Lieutenant Khull's deployment to Fiji.
"This is the first time I've been deployed on an operation overseas. It has been a great learning experience as I haven't operated in these conditions before with heavy loads and a very humid climate," FLTLT Khull said.
"The children waving at us and villagers shaking my hand through the cockpit window after we deliver aid to their communities make this deployment pretty memorable for me. It also gives me a reality check of what we are here for."
One of around 400 personnel currently involved in the NZDF's humanitarian aid operation in the cyclone-hit country, FLTLT Khull is one of seven pilots from the RNZAF's 3 Squadron who are conducting aid flights to the devastated areas.
An alumna of Tauranga's Otumoetai College, she qualified for the RNZAF University Scheme and enlisted in February 2010 after completing her degree in management studies at Waikato University.
"It's a long time dream of mine to be a pilot. For my sixteenth birthday, my two sisters bought me a trial flight on a Cessna, and I loved it and have been hooked since then."
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FLTLT Khull said the RNZAF training gave all students equal opportunities to complete it and fulfil their potential, and she encouraged young women to follow their dream and not overlook a career in aviation.
"I never felt that I was treated differently and the training was no easier or harder because I'm female. Like everyone else, I worked hard to get the results.
"The best advice I can give is just go for it. You never know what you can do until you give it a shot," FLTLT Khull said.