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A country boy through and through, Richard Tonkin left school at 16 to pursue a career on the land. But over 10 years on with a young family to support, he decided to pursue his childhood passion and experience the land from a new angle.

Ask Richard why he wanted to become a helicopter pilot and he doesn't beat around the bush.

"It's a pretty good feeling being in the sky, doing what you love doing best — the view's pretty amazing," Richard said.

But it wasn't a career he always thought was in reach, instead trying his hand at a number of different roles in mining and agriculture over the years.

"I left school when I was about 16 and went jackarooing up the top of Queensland. After that, I went into the ag industry — farming, operating machinery, coal mines, jackarooing, station life," he said.

But even though he loved life on the land, he never forgot his childhood dream of being a pilot.

"Since I was a little fella I've always had a passion in helicopters and being able to fly," he reminisced.

As he got older and started a family, Richard wanted a more secure and flexible job to provide for his family. So he started to investigate the possibility to turning his childhood dream into reality.

"I did a bit of research over the internet and TAFE Queensland offered a pretty good package," Richard said.

"They also do VET Student Loans, which helps a lot. It's not such a big upfront cost, it gives you an opportunity to pay it off over a longer time and to be able to go and chase your careers and your dreams."

Changing careers later in life, especially when you have a family to support, can be a challenge. But TAFE Queensland's fast-tracked training meant Richard was only off work for a short period of time.

"Studying at TAFE Queensland, doing a Diploma of Aviation (Commercial Pilot Licence - Helicopter) (AVI50319), you can do it within six months if you do it full time. You want to be working, so the six months is quite efficient to get it in, get it done, chase your careers and get back on track," he said.

With such a condensed training program, Richard didn't have to wait long until he was taking off on his first solo flight.

"I went solo at about 25 hours. It was quite amazing that feeling, coming off the ground and being in the sky."

While 25 hours of flight time might not sound like a lot, with the experience and support from his teaching team Richard was well prepared to take on the challenge.

"The teachers here at TAFE Queensland are quite amazing, so are the instructors. They're very patient, and they support you right through it, from the start to the finish," he said.

Richard's fellow students were also a great source of inspiration and encouragement throughout his studies.

"Probably the highlight of my studies is doing it with a great bunch of people," Richard said.

"There's probably 13 of us in the class, they're all great guys. We all work together and the instructors and the teachers work with us. It's just a great environment being in the atmosphere with all the other students."

As Richard nears the end of his studies, the sky's the limit for what his future career will bring.

"There's a wide range of careers out there. Jobs like firefighting, mustering cattle, search and rescue, all sorts of things. When I finish my diploma I'll probably look into agricultural aviation — mustering cattle, pest control, surveying, things like that," he explained.

It's safe to say it's a career that Richard feels pretty lucky to be a part of.

"The best thing about being in the aviation industry is being in the skies, having that birds-eye view, flying the coastlines, the ranges, the waterfalls — the view is one of a kind," Richard concluded.

 

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TAFE Queensland