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Red Checkers

Blue Skies

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For the Air Force’s Red Checkers aerobatics team the beginning of 2008 promises to be very busy indeed. First up over the weekend of 20-21 January the highlight was the A1 GP motor racing in Taupo. Other upcoming events include Wings and Wheels over Waikato from 7-9 March culminating in the ever-popular biennial Warbirds over Wanaka from 20-24 March.

An Open Day at RNZAF Base Ohakea will showcase the Air Force and include displays by the Air Force’s very own Kiwi Blue parachute team and, of course the Red Checkers.

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Checkers One and leader of the team SQNLDR Shaun Clark says the team’s routines are perfectly safe although there is always an inherent danger involved in having aircraft so close together. All of the team members are senior RNZAF Flying Instructors and began training for their routines back in August 2007, finally coming together as a full formation in October. While there are no new manoeuvres in the air show SQNLDR Clark says the team has ‘expanded on’ a couple of older routines. Despite the inclusion of three new team members, including himself, SQNLDR Clark says the team came together quickly. Much of their practise was done when the air field was relatively quiet – early mornings and late evenings.

A former member of the Checkers, FLTLT Jeremy Church, is currently on exchange with the RAAF at RAAF Base Pearce In Western Australia. He is working as an instructor for trainee pilots and we are hoping to get an interview with him for our March issue.

Team and Support crew

Checkers One – SQNLDR Shaun Clark. OH-08-0012-02-tn.jpg. Checkers One: SQNLDR Shaun Clark

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Thirty-four-year-old SQNLDR Clark grew up on a farm in Dipton, Central Southland. He joined the RNZAF in 1992 and has spent the majority of his career flying helicopters. During this time he completed operational tours to Antarctica, Bougainville, East Timor and the Solomon Islands. He has more recently spent two years teaching students to fly on exchange with the RAAF in Australia. SQNLDR Clark has flown 4800 hours on a range of aircraft including the Airtrainer, Aermacchi, Sioux, Iroquois, PC-9 and Harvard. SQNLDR Clarks interests include kart racing, motorbike riding and fishing.

Checkers Two - SQNLDR Pete Cochran. OH-08-0012-04-tn.jpg. Checkers Two: SQNLDR Pete Cochran

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Coming from the Bay of Islands, Northland, SQNLDR Cochran joined the RNZAF many years ago (he is not saying exactly how many). SQNLDR Cochran has flown a range of training aircraft, including the Airtrainer, Tiger Moth, Harvard, Strikemaster and Aermacchi. He has also flown a number of maritime and transport aircraft including the P3 Orion and venerable Dakota DC3. SQNLDR Cochran, who lists his age as ‘many years’ has clocked up an impressive 10,000 military flying hours and has been a member of 16 formation aerobatic teams. SQNLDR Cochran, whose interests include Middle East Affairs, and the Arabic language has also completed peace-keeping tours to Egypt and Afghanistan.

Checkers Three - SQNLDR Paul Stockley.OH-08-0012-05-tn.jpg. Checkers Three: SQNLDR Paul Stockley

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Born in Raetihi but raised in Lower Hutt, SQNLDR Stockley joined the RNZAF in 1987 and on completion of his wings training was posted to Number 3 Squadron to fly the Iroquois helicopter. During several tours on 3 Squadron he served in many locations including Antarctica, the U.K, Fiji and East Timor. SQNLDR Stockley, who is forty years old has spent the latter half of his career instructing, during which he spent two years on exchange with the RAAF flying PC-9s and over four years with the RAF flying Tucanos. The main interest of SQNLDR Stockley, who has flown 5100 hours, is avoiding Checkers One throughout the display season!

Checkers Four - SQNLDR Scott McKenzie. OH-08-0012-06-tn.jpg. Checkers Four: SQNLDR Scott McKenzie

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Returning for his second season with the Red Checkers, thirty-three-year-old SQNLDR McKenzie grew up in Taumarunui before joining the RNZAF in 1995. A career flying helicopters saw him complete three tours to East Timor and one to the Solomon Islands, and exercises in Fiji, Australia, the United States of America, and Singapore. SQNLDR McKenzie, who has flown 3600 hours, has a keen interest in all forms of aviation and has flown a diverse range of military and civilian aircraft including the Fokker Triplane, Harvard, Tiger Moth, Aermacchi and numerous helicopter types including Hughes 500 and AS350.

Checkers Five – FLTLT Dwight Weston. OH-08-0012-03-tn.jpg. Checkers Five: FLTLT Dwight Weston

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Twenty-nine-year-old FLTLT Weston grew up in Hunterville. He joined the RNZAF in 1998 and on completion of his pilot training was posted to helicopters. During his time on helicopters he flew three operational tours in East Timor and one in the Solomon Islands, and completed a number of exercises in the USA, Singapore and Fiji. Flight Lieutenant Weston, who has flown 2300 hours has more recently been employed as a Qualified Flying Instructor at Pilot Training Squadron. FLTLT Weston’s interests include golf, wakeboarding, skiing, squash and tennis.

Checkers Back up Pilot - FLTLT Charlie Beetham. OH-08-0012-07-tn.jpg. Checkers Back up Pilot: FLTLT Charlie Beetham

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FLTLT Charlie Beetham hails from Weber in Southern Hawkes Bay. Joining the RNZAF in 1998 he was posted to No. 3 Squadron on completion of his pilot training. Having completed two operational tours to East Timor and one in the Solomon Islands, FLTLT Beetham spent two years on exchange to No. 6 Squadron flying the Navy’s SH-2G Seasprite, which included a six-month embarked tour with HMNZS Te Mana in the South China Sea. FLTLT Beetham spends his spare time flying his family’s Cessna 185, racing motorbikes and is a keen rugby player.

Checkers Support - W/O Ty Cochran. OH-08-0012-08-tn.jpg. Checkers Support: W/O Ty Cochran

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Warrant Officer Ty Cochran is the Red Checkers official voice and commentator describing the team’s various stunts. He also helps organise the team’s air shows. Prior to working with the Red Checkers Warrant Officer Cochran was a Load Master and has also served as a Helicopter Crewman Instructor with No.3 Squadron.

Checkers Support - FLTLT Michelle Christie. OH-08-0012-09-tn.jpg. Checkers Support: FLTLT Michelle Christie

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FLTLT Michelle Christie grew up on a farm in Waikaia, Northern Southland. She joined the RNZAF in 1996 and is a Human Resources Officer. The majority of her career has been in administrative roles but includes training and recruitment. FLTLT Christie has served in Woodbourne and Ohakea and recently completed an operational tour to Afghanistan. FLTLT Christie’s interests include squash, touch, hockey and travel.


All images on these pages including our front page were taken by Professional Aviation photographer Mr Gavin Conroy. His camera ship pilot was Jay McIntyre (an RNZAF engineer). Mr Conroy kindly donated a selection of his photographs for our use in this magazine but will be posting another 80 or so images from the same event on his web site. Well worth a look at that and other examples of his work!

Gavin Conroy Classic Aircraft Photography Ph 027 220 3573 Web