It’s a long way from a Taranaki dairy farm to a career in the South Island’s aviation industry.
Joseph Topping (25) made the move a month ago to become a flight instructor at the North Otago Aero Club. He will be supervised by chief flying instructor Peter Marshall for six months and 100 hours’ instructing, under Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand regulations.
Mr Topping has found private board with a Oamaru resident and settled in “for the foreseeable future”.
He is the fourth generation on his family’s dairy block near Inglewood. Not only did they milk cows, but they also had a large herd of dairy goats and assorted other livestock, including llamas and Highland cattle.
After finishing high school, Mr Topping studied architecture at Victoria University in Wellington for a year. Realising it was not for him, he returned to the farm to work.
For his 21st birthday, his mother gave him a trial flight at their local aero club. She had gone two-thirds of the way towards her pilot’s licence in the past, and the instructor who taught her was still on hand to teach her son.
Mr Topping, who had always been interested in aviation, knew he had found a new interest. He didn’t consider it as a career at first, just planned to get his private pilot’s licence. He studied the theory and went flying once a week.
Then he discovered the Nelson Aviation College and phoned up to lodge a last-minute enrolment. By the time the course started, he had his licence.
Of the 14 students flying fixed-wing planes, five had private licences, three or four had never been in a small plane, and the others were at varying stages in between.
The diploma in aviation course was advertised as a two-year programme, but the five with their licences completed it within 18 months. They then went on to a higher-level diploma that trained them to be flight instructors.
“We had two diplomas by the time the others did the first one.
“I was the only one in my class who did both diplomas who passed everything the first time.”
That was in December last year. After working on the farm for a couple of months, Mr Topping learned of the vacancy at the North Otago Aero Club and travelled down for an interview. Having secured the job, he packed up and drove south.
“I really like it,” he said of his new home town.
With his interest in architecture, he is enjoying exploring Oamaru’s famous limestone buildings.
On the work front, there are “quite a few students” learning to fly and Mr Topping is scheduling meetings with the high schools and their careers and Gateway staff with a view to boosting numbers.