Home' Navy News : December 8th 2011 Contents December 8, 2011
817 Squadron and Sea Kings decommission
classic aircraft with so much history,
o lucky to have been able to fly it. It's
tic. It's got a lot of sentimental value.
d, but we've all got to move on.
-- LEUT David Lacey, pilot 817 SQN
ve been so
A pioneer for women, Johnston makes mark with 817
BEING knocked back from an
ADFA scholarship to become an
engineer was a blessing in dis-
guise for Natalee Johnston (nee
When she was fresh out of high
school, the West Australian hadn't
seriously contemplated a career as a
Navy recruiting staff, however, sug-
gested that she reapply as a pilot after
she expressed some interest during
"The suggestion came as a bit of a
shock, because in 1993 I wasn't aware
of many female pilots in the military,
or of the option to join as a pilot in the
Navy," she said.
LCDR Johnston's flying experi-
ence prior to joining the RAN was lim-
ited to 10 hours, courtesy of a flying
"It was after having my first flight
in a small aircraft, I thought 'this is
quite cool, I'd quite like to do this as a
job'," said LCDR Johnston, sitting in
her office overlooking the airfield at
"I went back later that year and
applied to ADFA as a pilot after going
through all the usual military testing
and the additional flight screening.
"It happened before I really thought
about it. Before I knew it I was in the
Navy as a pilot. Sixteen years have
now gone and I'm still here."
She became the RAN's first female
pilot when she graduated from the
pilot's course in 1998.
She has since made her mark in
the Sea Kings, logging the bulk of her
2600-plus flying hours in them.
Being the 'first' is not some-
thing that concerns LCDR Johnston,
although she recognises the signifi-
cance of this achievement when she
considers the gap between herself and
the younger female pilots.
As a pioneer for women in the
Fleet Air Arm, there has been no short-
age of external pressure.
But she has steadfastly refused any
special attention on her way up the
"I think I was out to prove a point
to myself because there were some
people who said I couldn't do it. When
I was at ADFA there were some people
who said I wouldn't be able to do cer-
tain subjects. I made a point of doing
well in all those things," she said.
"[Taking that approach] wasn't so
much about being female, but it was
because of my personality. A lot of
guys go through the same -- they have
"Normally the person who puts
the most pressure on you is yourself.
The pressure I put on myself was a lot
more than anyone else put on me."
LCDR Johnston's career highlights
include her first deployment to sea
as a pilot (involving four months in
Solomon Islands), embarking numer-
ous times in HMAS Kanimbla, becom-
ing a flight commander, participation
in an instructor's course in the UK
(where she met her husband) and
Operation Padang Assist in Indonesia.
For her, some of the most reward-
ing moments have happened when
the squadron's tight-knit crew has
faced some of the most challenging
conditions -- such as with the dif-
ficult weather conditions during the
Queensland floods earlier this year.
Proud of 817 SQN's achievements,
she said farewelling the Sea Kings and
the squadron would be sad day.
"Having to say goodbye, there will
Navy will still be feeling that gap for
some time to come."
-- Simon Gladman
NO-ONE knows Sea Kings
better than Tanzi Lea.
After clocking up more
than 10,000 hours in the heli-
copters, LCDR Lea will retire from
the RAN on the same day as the Sea
Kings make their final flight.
"I'm very fortunate that I will retire
on the same day as the Sea Kings, but
that's just coincidence," said LCDR
Lea, who came to Australia perma-
nently in 1990 after starting out with
the Royal Navy (RN) in 1964.
"It's going to be sad, and I think
I'll miss it by day one. But then again,
you can't dwell on it too much.
"There will be some emotion and
what have you, but at the end of the
day I'm happy with the decision I've
made and I'll open a new chapter in
LCDR Lea is looked up to like a
father within 817 SQN.
Having started out in the RN as
an engine room artificer in 1964, he
became a pilot in 1972 and a flight
instructor in 1978.
LCDR Lea has taught "probably
everyone who's been a pilot" with the
squadron -- including Commanding
Officer CMDR Paul Moggach,
Executive Officer LCDR Scott Palmer
and Training Officer LCDR Natalee
The instant job satisfaction from
A 'father' figure of 817 SQN, LCDR Tanzi Lea's
time is up after almost 50 years in the Navy
By SIMON GLADMAN
PIONEER: LCDR Natalee Johnston
was the RAN's first female pilot.
OUT ON TOP:
LCDR Tanzi Lea's
naval career will
also touch down
with the Sea Kings'
Photo: LSIS Paul Berry
working closely with pilots is what has
kept him flying.
"The secret to working is you have
to enjoy what you do. To do that, you
need job satisfaction," LCDR Lea said.
"As an instructor, if you're with
someone for an hour and then they
respond and do things well, then that's
your job satisfaction.
"My choice has been to stay flying.
That's what I enjoy. I know myself,
and I think my abilities have been best
suited with flying and instructing ...
rather than in the administrative field."
LCDR will miss the dynamism of
working with the squadron, particular-
ly those adrenalin rushes when called
into action in emergency situations.
He knows that when the Fleet Air
Arm helicopters are in the headlines
again for responding to such events he
will be "jumping up and down" want-
ing to be back in the air.
"But I'll have to think, 'no you
can't, you've had your time'. My
thoughts will be with the crews in
those moments because I know they
are off getting great satisfaction from
their work," he said.
It's when under those trying cir-
cumstances that the strength of the
team shines through.
LCDR Lea remembers the rescue
of yachtsmen during the 1998 Sydney
to Hobart tragedy, in which the Sea
Kings worked overnight in atrocious
weather, as a fine example of the team-
work and skill of the squadron's crews
"You have to have your total faith
in the aircraft and the rest of the crew
who you're flying with," he said.
He is also proud of the part the Sea
Kings played in helping flood victims
in Queensland early this year, opera-
tions in the Gulf, peacekeeping mis-
sions and the numerous times helping
the community, such as with fighting
LCDR Lea said although the Sea
King crews received much of the
media's attention and public's praise
because of the highly visible nature of
their role, the Fleet Air Arm and wider
Navy family deserved just as much
"Crisis management is what we
do so well. I'm talking the big 'we',
not the little 'we'. When you're away,
you're nobody unless you've got good
people left behind," he said.
"Although we're a close-knit fam-
ily in 817, we're still a family in the
Fleet Air Arm. I suppose when we do
our bit, it tends to be newsworthy. But
it's probably no more so than someone
driving a ship.
"I always think we're like an octo-
pus, where you have a body and tenta-
cles going out. We're just one of those
tentacles; without the body, you're no
Fittingly, the last flight in the long
and distinguished careers of the Sea
Kings and the man who has come to
symbolise 817 SQN will touch down
"The last flight will happen and
I'll think 'yep, thank you very much
Sea Kings, you've done me proud,
you've looked after me."
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