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Adam lands a new career

Growing up, the sight and sound of helicopters always caused Adam Bernhardt to rush outside and look up.

“Just the sight of a helicopter inspired me to one day fly them from a young age. Then when my uncle and I visited the Police Air-wing, I got to sit in a chopper as the pilot performed a ground run and a quick flight – suffice to say from then on, I was hooked,” explained Adam.

Fast forward to adulthood, Adam’s career saw him work all over the world as a special operations professional for law enforcement up until his most recent role as the Senior Manager of Safety Systems for a Brisbane based helicopter organisation, charged with looking after both aviation and people safety for several civilian and military helicopter programs.

“Various roles have meant I’ve often been a helicopter passenger, which has maintained my childhood fascination with these amazing flying machines.”

“Every time I was in one, I would watch how pilots fly into tight spaces, at low level to deploy special operations, or even come to a stop and hover for police officers to rappel out onto a roof. It was amazing to see,” he continued.

"Then, after years sitting in the back, I decided that I wanted to be up the front in the pilot seat and get qualified and take the controls to perform those highly skilled tasks.”

During his research into training how to become a commercial helicopter pilot, Adam discovered TAFE Queensland’s Diploma of Aviation (Commercial Pilot Licence - Helicopter) (AVI50319), which would let him learn to fly in a Bell47 helicopter, bringing his boyhood dreams to life.

“Part of my passion for helicopters came from watching MASH as a ten-year-old and seeing how helicopters can be used to help people.”

“TAFE Queensland has the only Bell47 helicopter available for training, and I thought it would be great to train in the same helicopter used in the show - it’s the most iconic chopper in the world, and another reason why I love helicopters,” he said.

His decision to study with TAFE Queensland was made even more accessible because of their partnership with Airwork Helicopters, whose expert pilots provide training and assessment at the Caboolture Airfield.

For the first 13 weeks, Adam learnt flying theory and gained an understanding of helicopters. He also learnt meteorology, aerodynamics, navigation, radio communications, and operating in different airspace.

Once out of the classroom, he practised the theory by flying with instructors above Moreton Bay.

“I was flying with highly trained instructors learning all the skills required to become a commercial pilot, and after 20 hours of assisted flight experience, I took my first solo flight – and it was incredible.”

“The Airwork team were great – they’re the Jedi knights of helicopter training and were always on hand to offer advice and support when needed.”

Being a qualified pilot has enhanced Adam’s career, as he can now better see the relationship between operational (aviation), occupational (people) safety and product (quality) safety.

“As a helicopter pilot, I better understand the complexities of this business and the insights I now have enabled me to ensure effective synergies across my areas of responsibility.”

Now fully qualified, Adam is proud to share his flying ability with his friends and family but knows he must continue working hard to fly commercially.

While he knows he has more to do, Adam is confident that the skills he learned from TAFE Queensland and Airwork Helicopters will enable him to take this next step.

“I’m 52 years old and have been out of school since 1986, so coming back to the classroom was a little overwhelming. But the teachers helped with the study technique, and they genuinely want their students to succeed – they’re the most patient team I have ever met.”

For anyone thinking of studying to change their career, enhance their skills or follow their passion, Adam advises they keep it simple and remember that you’re not in it alone.

“Everyone learns at a different rate, but the great thing about learning in a classroom is you get a diverse group of people, all working towards the same goal, and you can bounce things off each other and talk through the hard stuff,” he said.

“Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. I remember back in high school when I’d look at helicopters flying past; my teacher said, ‘Adam, no one will pay you to look outside a window all day’”.

“I suppose they didn’t consider that one day my office would be behind the controls of a helicopter, and I’d be doing exactly that as a pilot, several thousand feet in the air,” concluded Adam.