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High-flying ladies

Helicopter pilots-in-training Christie Mokotupu and Shelby Dellar are passionate about aviation and love nothing more than taking to the skies above Townsville.

Christie and Shelby are studying a Diploma of Aviation (Commercial Pilot Licence - Helicopter) (AVI50315) which TAFE Queensland delivers in partnership with Townsville Helicopters.

The women are trailblazers in their industry with statistics showing just 9% of air transport professionals are female.

But learning to fly a helicopter was a natural decision for elite volleyball player and self-confessed adrenaline junkie, Christie.

"I love anything that goes fast, so it came as no surprise to my family that I'm flying helicopters now," Christie said. 

"Flying helicopters was something that I’ve always wanted to do and TAFE Queensland made that possible."

The 36-year-old Australian Olympian admits she was a complete novice when she enrolled in the diploma course.

"I had never been in a helicopter and I didn’t know how rotors got from the ground up to the sky, so I literally started the course with no experience," Christie said.

“My favourite thing about the course is definitely overcoming the challenges and obstacles that you face when studying."

“We were learning about autorotation and I just couldn’t get it, and my instructor said at the start that we will all come to a point where there is a blockage and mine was autorotation," she said.

But after hitting the books hard, Christie mastered the theory unit and recalls the day she took her first ever solo flight.

“I was very emotional, it was the day before my 36th birthday and when I was up in the sky it was so surreal, like how I felt at the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony," Christie said.

“I just couldn’t believe that I was in the sky by myself, and I was just so proud of my hard work to get there."

Meanwhile, Shelby Dellar is starting her aviation career early, beginning her studies while still at high school.

"I’m currently in Year 11 and I'll hopefully be able to finish this course a few months after I graduate high school," Shelby said.

"My high school teachers and career adviser are all really supportive of what I'm doing, and my family is really proud of me as well."

"I am originally from Airlie Beach and I would love to become a pilot in the tourism industry in the Whitsundays and maybe even one day work in the mustering industry."

According to Shelby, Townsville is an amazing location to fly around as it offers both controlled and non-controlled airspace.

"Our main training area is Cape Cleveland, we do some training around Magnetic Island and we also do hover training over Town Common near Cape Pallarenda," Shelby said.

"The first time I went flying with an instructor was amazing. I’d never touched the controls of a helicopter before and then I was up there flying and the instructor's guidance was so great."

"I’m working towards going on my first solo flight and I’m really looking forward to it," she said.

The course has exposed Christie and Shelby to a wide range of industry experience, including helping to coordinate joy flights at the 2019 Watpac Townsville 400.

"We were part of the ground crew, helping passengers get safely in and out of the helicopters," Shelby said.

"It was amazing because it gave us a sense of what being a commercial pilot will be like." 

Christie agreed that it was a fun experience.

“I love cars, so when Townsville Helicopters said they go to the V8 Supercars I put my hand up straight away to participate,” Christie said.

“It was a hard office to be at, flying in and out of the V8s, being around cars and helicopters,” she joked.

Christie is passionate about encouraging more people to make their sky-high goals a reality.

"There’s no reason why you can’t do it. There’s no age, there’s no background, there is no reason why you can’t fly a helicopter. I did it and you can do it too."

There's no better time for aviation enthusiasts to consider pursuing their dream career with 4000 air transport job openings expected to come online by 2023.