When the hangar doors open at Ohakea and the helicopters loom, it’s easy to start conjuring Top Gun references.
Life in the NZDF may not be as cheesy as the Tom Cruise movies, and we may not have America's lethal combat aircraft or carrier capabilities.
But the Air Force base still seems to offer recruits a challenge many other employers can't match.
And with unemployment low and the big OE back on, the adventure the military promises might be the edge it needs to battle high attrition and worker shortages.
The stakes are high. The Defence Force has to gear up for more anticipated geopolitical tensions and reinvigorate after MIQ and the pandemic stretched resources.
At the Manawatū base, Squadron Leader Mary Robertson says the A109-LUH helicopter is primarily used for training in the Air Force.
But first, pilots have to pass training in the Texan fixed-wing aircraft across the road at 1 Hangar in 14 Squadron.
Are the trainees swaggering types bursting with bravado like Goose, Maverick and their mates in the movies?
"There are definitely some interesting people that come through the doors but I guess that's the same anywhere in society, right?" Robertson says.
"Generally, people want to be there because they have a big motivation to achieve a lot of their childhood dreams. So you generally get very motivated people through the doors."
The culture is also more inclusive than in years or decades past, she says.
Robertson said historically the military had a macho stamp but it now offered everybody an equal shot at camaraderie.
"I've never been treated differently to my male counterparts, or anybody else for that matter, which I feel is a very lucky position to be in. It's everybody's game if you're willing to give it a go."
But even the adventure of flight and chances of overseas deployments might not be enough to make a crucial point of difference to young jobseekers spoiled for choice.
The Recruitment, Consulting & Staffing Association on Wednesday said staff shortages were still a major issue for employers nationwide.
"It's raining jobs in Aotearoa New Zealand, but industry insiders say jobseekers are running away from the downpour," the association's latest jobs report added.
Net migration statistics showed more Kiwis were leaving the country than arriving in some recent months, exacerbating the nationwide labour crisis.
The NZDF was also battling high attrition rates, and some staff have voiced frustration over the time spent performing ponderous MIQ duties during the pandemic.
But the NZDF seems aware of these challenges.
In mid-October, Defence Minister Peeni Henare announced a panel to lead a major review of defence policy, strategy, and planned investments.
And the Defence Force at the end of August launched a recruitment campaign to encourage 16-24 year olds to consider a career in the services.
The Codewords campaign essentially emphasised the camaraderie and unique experiences of life in the military.
Robertson says life in the military also offers people chances to make a real difference to the community.
She was called up to help after the 2011 Rena oil spill disaster near Tauranga, the major Christchurch earthquakes and the Pike River Mine tragedy.
"Doing things like that and being able to help and give back to the New Zealand community is massive."
The camaraderie and opportunity to expand your social circle can extend beyond the squadron and hangar, she says.
"The other surprising things are the friendships you can make outside of your work environment, playing sport, meeting all of the people from the different organisations. It's a very very lucky place to be."
She says she enjoys teaching and mentoring the pilot students - and as long as she keeps finding joy in the job, she'll keep doing it.
Over by the sleek black T6 Texan, Flying Officer Alessandra McKain says every Air Force and Navy pilot will learn to fly on the aircraft.
McKain says her wings course involved 144 flights combining two simulators and lessons on the Texan.
"There's a lot of switches and buttons and definitely as someone who hadn't done any flying before I joined up, it was a pretty surreal feeling."
Even getting to that point was a challenge, she says.
"The process to apply and join up is quite a long one, so to finally get there and get your first flight in the aircraft is an absolutely incredible moment."
McKain says local search and rescue operations help her and her comrades feel like they're making a meaningful contribution.
And she says many opportunities in the Defence Force are unfathomable in the civilian sector.
"Not even just the flying, the experiences you get on recruit course and day-to-day stuff is just amazing.
"How many people get to say they get paid to go out to the range and do target shooting for a day?"
Pilot training, like learning to drive a car, can have its emotional moments. There can be tension and frustration - and not all recruits will pass the course.
Life in the Defence Force can be tough, McKain says.
“But that’s what makes it rewarding as well.”
-John Weekes travelled to RNZAF Base Ohakea courtesy of NZDF