Air Force couple Nicole Brooke and Andrew Stewart are in a unique position to understand each other’s working day.
Flight Lieutenant Stewart, originally from Timaru, and Flight Lieutenant Brooke, from Palmerston North, are both Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) helicopter pilots in different sections of NH90 Flight, No3 Squadron, at Ohakea.
The pair, with No3 Squadron, were deployed together for Exercise Tropic Major in Vanuatu, flying NH90 helicopters from the flight deck of HMNZS Canterbury
They did not meet while in the RNZAF, but through search and rescue work.
Fl Lt Brooke’s father, a police officer in Palmerston North, co-ordinated search and rescue teams and knew Fl Lt Stewart, who is originally from Timaru.
Knowing his daughter had an interest in joining the RNZAF, he introduced the pair in 2009. They started dating nine months later.
Fl Lt Brooke graduated from pilot training in 2014 and the pair were married last year.
It was inside knowledge of No3 Squadron’s missions that helped Fl Lt Stewart set up an elaborate marriage proposal.
In 2015, knowing his girlfriend would be flying past a certain ridge line in the Ruahine Range at a certain time, he positioned himself at the peak with a large banner saying “MARRY ME”.
“But the sortie didn’t go as planned,” he said.
“I had to go to plan B quickly because too many people knew about it, so I proposed to her later that night in the paddock where we planned to build our house.”
Fl Lt Brooke said her husband definitely got full marks for effort.
“A lot of people don’t know we are married,” she said.
“We stay professional. We’re not quartered together and when we are at work we are work colleagues. It makes it easier for everyone.”
The pair do not necessarily go on the same military exercises together, and can spend long periods apart.
When Exercise Tropic Major finished, Fl Lt Brooke went home, while Fl Lt Stewart stayed with Canterbury for another Pacific exercise.
“There are a lot of pros to being in the same job in the Air Force,” Fl Lt Brooke said.
“So when it’s really stressful, when you’re tired and working heaps, you understand.”
She had wanted to be a helicopter pilot since she was a teenager.
She became involved in search and rescue missions, and got a ride in one of No3 Squadron’s earlier helicopters, an Iroquois.
“I was hooked, absolutely. I wanted to be a helicopter pilot,” she said.
She was one of seven out of 12 who graduated from her Wings course.
Fl Lt Stewart joined the RNZAF halfway through seventh form in 2008.
“I had a passion for aviation, and had flown solo in fixed-wing aircraft,” he said.
“I was interested in search and rescue, and the military sounded like a good idea.”