LifeFlight pilot and veteran commemorates ANZAC Day

The father of two attained the rank of Army Captain during a distinguished 17 year career as a helicopter pilot, completing two tours to Afghanistan.

“For my family, ANZAC day is a massive deal,” said 41 year old Tyson.

“My great grandfathers were both in the army in World War 1, my grandfather was in the navy and my grandfather on my mother’s side was in the British Army, both serving in World War II. 

“More recently, my dad served in the Australian Army in Vietnam, my mum served in the army as a nurse and my sister was also with the army in East Timor. So it is a big thing for us every ANZAC Day and gives all of us a real sense of pride.”

LifeFlight has a strong and proud tradition of recruiting ex-military personnel as pilots and aircrew with around 30 former servicemen on its staff representing armed forces from four continents (Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom and Canada). 

Most will march in Anzac Day parades around Queensland, while others will be on duty at one of LifeFlight’s five community helicopter rescue bases around the state, airlifting injured patients in their hour of need.

It was almost inevitable that Tyson Pearce began his military career at age 16. He signed up and undertook a trade in electronics fixing Leopard tanks and night vision goggles. 

But the young soldier aspired for a career in the skies, although he doubted whether he was made of the “right stuff”.

“I always thought that being a pilot was beyond my reach,” he said.

“I really thought it would be beyond me, but after doing my trade I had to do a Year 12 bridging course. I just thought I would give it a crack anyway and I was accepted into the ADF pilot training course. 

“I got through the first stage and just took it one step at a time and kept working hard until I managed to get through the entire course. 

“Out of the 11 army guys who started the course there was only three of us who passed.

“You get through something as challenging as that and it certainly gives you an air of confidence to do more.”

Tyson began his helicopter flying training on Army Bell JetRangers in 2000 before joining 171 Squadron flying Bell UH-1 Iroquois (nicknamed “Huey”) helicopters for three years. The “Huey” was designed as the original Medivac helicopter which was a portent for his future career with LifeFlight.

“I have just awesome memories of my days on the Hueys (which have since been retired) and it’s sad that people don’t get to hear their sound anymore while they’re in the air because they are such a unique sound,” he said.

In 2006, Tyson was deployed to Kandahar Airbase in Afghanistan as part of Australia’s 13-year involvement in the war there, called Operation Slipper.

His role was to transport troops and cargo flying the D Model Chinook helicopters. He served two deployments, the longest of which was five months. 

“The difference flying over there, compared to flying a rescue helicopter around Queensland, is that there is no one trying to shoot you down here,” he quips.

“Also there is a massive amount of equipment you use while flying military helicopters, you have bigger crews with machine guns, electronic warfare for self-protection like flares that shoot off if someone launches a rocket at you.

“The biggest thing that I remember about Afghanistan is the dust.  One of our aircraft was weighed when it arrived in Afghanistan and again before it left. They calculated we had collected about half a tonne of dust in the helicopter.”

There were daily challenges as an Army Captain flying combat troops around a war zone and Tyson was proud and relieved that he served his country and survived unscathed.

Tyson left the ADF in 2008 and joined LifeFlight as a helicopter pilot in February 2016 and today flies over the skies of Queensland in the newest aero-medical helicopters, the AW139, delivering seriously ill or injured patients in need of further medical assistance. 

“I get that real sense of achievement when we get a seriously ill patient into hospital in time. It’s pretty fulfilling to save lives and to get that sense of giving back to the community,” he said.

“It’s always been instilled in my family and been part of our values – that you should look after others in the community. Dad was a fireman after he left the military and Mum was a nurse so we have always been raised that way and been surrounded by that sense of duty.” 

Tyson has marched with his parents and sister in past ANZAC Day parades, but this year he is spending the day with former servicemen and friends and will be attending the Dawn Service with his wife and two young children, as well as marching in the parade at Redcliffe.

“I remember watching my Dad march when I was a kid and see him catch up with all his mates on ANZAC Day,” he said.

“The day now has a new meaning for me having served my country myself and to involve my kids is fantastic.”