Anna Shaw

Helicopter Pilot, Flying Instructor and mum to twin boys

Hailing from Hawkes Bay and Flaxmere, Squadron Leader Anna Shaw grew up sharing her fathers love of aviation. From a young age knew she wanted to fly and become an Air Force Pilot. She worked hard at school to ensure she'd be a strong candidate for her dream job, and now she's in second in charge of the Helicopter Transition Unit, instructing other pilots on how to fly the Air Force’s cutting edge helicopter fleet.

How do you fit into the Air Force?

I am firstly an Officer and my primary role is a helicopter pilot and Unit Executive Officer (XO). I’m also a qualified flying instructor and I teach people how to fly helicopters and up skill through out their flying careers. In the Helicopter Transition Unit, as the XO I’m the Operations Flight Commander (second in command to the Unit Commanding Officer) and my tasks are to facilitate daily flying operations, including the introduction into service of both the new helicopters - the A109 and NH90. I also assess flight safety and flying supervision and standards. But of course the most fun part of my job is flying!

There is no typical day for a pilot in the Air Force as we can be called on for so many things in support of the Government and Defence Force. Being in a helicopter unit our key customer is the New Zealand Army and our key role is battlefield support. But the Air Force is also responsible to the Government to help with the NZ Police, Search and Rescue, Department of Conservation, Fisheries, Fire Service, Civil Defence and other government agencies. 

What experiences have you had in the Defence Force that you could not have had in any other job? 

A couple of years ago I was sent to Brussels to be part of the Helicopter Inter-Service Working Group at NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation). Many member nations participated, but as it happens there aren’t a lot of countries in the world where helicopters are an Air Force asset – typically they’re an Army asset. So New Zealand is invited to participate in this NATO working group, and here was little old Anna as the head of the New Zealand delegation with her blonde pony-tail going into NATO Headquarters. It was an amazing situation! We all sat in the board room with a little sign denoting our nations and a microphone with an ear piece for translation. We were talking about high level rotary doctrine and writing tactics, techniques and procedures. Being a smaller military meant that I got to represent our Air Force even though I was not as senior in rank as the other participants from larger militaries. So because of my role as rotary operating airworthiness staff officer, I got to wear the doctrine ‘hat’ attending this NATO working group at the rank of Squadron Leader, which was cool but nerve racking! 

What might surprise people about being in the military?

This is just the world according to Anna, but I’ve heard people think you get paid poorly. Well, I disagree. Sometimes it’s better than civilian pay, and I have no problem with what I get paid - I live comfortably.

And there is no delineation between men and women. I feel strongly about that. It’s not like what you see in the movies, there isn’t any ‘old boys club’ - I’ve never experienced that in my entire career. Based on my near 15 years of service, I strongly believe that if you are capable, competent and confident, you can succeed regardless of your gender.

What can a young woman get out of a career with the Defence Force?

You can gain a profession that has long term career prospects within one large and versatile organisation. I’m employed by the Defence Force and I’ve done so many things. I’ve worked in Wellington at Defence Force Headquarters, I’ve been a helicopter pilot, I’ve been a flying instructor, I’ve been to Australia and worked at the Australian Defence Force Academy, and I’ve been deployed to the Solomon Islands. 

In your career you can work for the UN, or deploy on operations anywhere in the world, and all the while continue to progress within the organisation. You can even come in and out of trade. I think that is a big bonus in today’s economic climate that you can have job security and so much versatility, get paid well, make life long friends and have a lot of fun too!

In 15 years I have progressed though my career to the senior officer ranks, and I’ve had two awesome young boys along the way. The flexibility and support I get from the Air Force in achieving both milestones is second to none, and I feel privileged to work in such a family friendly organisation. I see the young women who we have joined up and feel proud that they too have so many opportunities ahead of them.