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In recognition . . . South Canterbury Aero Club chief flying instructor Aaron Pearce is set to head to London next month to receive the 2019 Grand Master's Medal. PHOTO: GRETA YEOMAN

by Greta Yeoman

When Aaron Pearce was first notified he had won the Grand Master’s Medal, he thought the email was spam.

The South Canterbury Aero Club chief flying instructor is set to head to London next month to receive the 2019 medal, which is chosen by the Honourable Company of Air Pilots (formerly the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators) in England.

One medal a year is awarded to a pilot under the age of 30 for outstanding achievement and endeavour in any field of flying activity.

Mr Pearce’s nomination had come from representatives at the national flying body Flying NZ.

Mr Pearce told The Courierthat when he was notified, via email, that he had been nominated for, and won, the prestigious award he was “dumbfounded”.

“I knew nothing about it.”

He said he had been unable to fly at all on the morning he received the email, due to his shock over the award.

He expressed his amusement about winning the award, saying most of the time it was awarded to air pilots who had saved people in battle, or airline pilots who had landed planes in heroic circumstances.

“I feel it’s premature, I’m only just starting my career.”

Mr Pearce said he loved the fact he got to share his “love of flying” as his job.

“I don’t feel like I’ve done anything special.”

“[It has been] absolutely crazy the support to get me over there.”

However, the impact he has had on South Canterbury Aero Club members, the more than 4000-member social media account Kiwi Pilots that he started with a friend, and the many young pilots he has supported through their first solo flights has been demonstrated by the financial support he has gained since his award became public.

This included a Givealittle page started by fellow aero club members in late August, which raised more than $4500 for Mr Pearce’s trip in just five days.

However, Mr Pearce said he asked the fundraiser organisers to eventually shut the page down, as he felt there were other “more worthy” causes.”

“It was getting silly.

“[It has been] absolutely crazy the support to get me over there.”

The aero club also held a quiz night at the weekend to raise funds for Mr Pearce’s travels.

The 10-day trip, which will begin on October 16, would be Mr Pearce’s first time overseas.

He would receive the medal at the Guildhall, in London, in front of about 500 people, from either London’s mayor or a member of the Royal Family.

Mr Pearce has been with the South Canterbury Aero Club since January 2016, previously working as an aerobatic pilot for tourists in Wanaka.

While he first got into the cockpit of his uncle’s plane about the age of 6, he only began taking flying seriously at about age 21.

However, it was a bit of a collision of history when Mr Pearce turned up at the Timaru club in 2016 – his uncle’s plane which he first flew in at age 6 was part of the South Canterbury fleet.

He said his interest in flying eventually sparked his uncle to get back into flying again.

Mr Pearce has been flying since about 2011, and instructing since 2014.