Rugby Personality Puma Flight Day

Hot on the heels of his 100th cap as Captain of the New Zealand All Blacks and a convincing 34-16 win over Wales, Richie McCaw took to the skies with RAF Spitfires Rugby 7s player Flight Lieutenant Steve Mills in an RAF Puma 2 before honouring his heritage with a tour of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight at RAF Coningsby. McCaw, who is also a qualified pilot, became an honorary Squadron Leader with the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF).

CWO J Dove 2477 (Britwell) and FS A Gibbs 2507 (Bicester) Squadron were chosen to accompany Ritchie McCaw on his Puma flight and both of whom are members of the wing rugby team. CWO J Dove provides Thames Valley Wing media with an account of the day.

“Flt Lt Mills, a RAF pilot and captain of the Puma 2, showed the most-capped All Blacks Captain the capabilities of the newest Support Helicopter in the RAF fleet. The Puma 2, capable of carrying the All Blacks team or up to 16 fully equipped troops, picked up McCaw during a routine training sortie to demonstrate the aircraft’s capabilities and share insights into how qualities such as teamwork and leadership exist in both flying and rugby.

The day started with a 4:30 wake up to get ready set to leave for RAF Benson at 5:15. We arrived at the guardroom at 6:15 to check in Get security passes for the cars. At about 6:30 we were at the hanger ready for our safety brief as the hanger began to light up with the RAF personnel scrambling around for the final preparations of the pumas before takeoff.  We received our safety briefs, got our helmets and were ready to go. There was some doubt about the weather as there was a low fog coming in which worried the Aircrew but fortunately the sun came up just in time to stop the fog from being a hazard and we were ready for takeoff. At this point in time myself and FS Gibbs had not been told who the Rugby star was and waited in anticipation to find out. We had a few names flying around like, Johnny Wilkinson the Hero behind England’s defeat of Australia in the 2003 world cup final. Or maybe was it one of the Underwood brothers as one of them had served in the RAF themselves so would have close ties to the Armed forces still.

Five minutes before take-off the Media Officer from RAF Benson informed us that the celebrity was one of the single greatest rugby players of all time, captain of the All Blacks team, Riche McCaw. I hadn’t even met the man yet and I was already nervous.

We lifted off at 0800 precisely as the RAF always is and in no time at all we was already at RAF Northolt. The Loadmaster Jump off the puma to collect Riche and bring him to the aircraft quickly and safely. He got into the aircraft with a short sharp hello and then went and sat in the cockpit of the aircraft with the two pilots. Before we knew it we had taken off again and were on our way to RAF Conningsby. After about an hour flight we landed at Conningsby where Riche was whisked off into a car and very quickly disappeared.

This was a problem…. me and FS Gibbs were supposed to be taken to the car and off with Riche but the whole speed that the situation was taking place set up some confusion. The media officer with us tried to get a hold of somebody to get us back to Riche but nobody had a clue where he was or where he was going first. Luckily we were escorted by an RAF officer who worked in Air traffic control so we were able to get a tour around the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and the Air Traffic control tower. At 1300 we knew Riche would be back and in 29 squadron’s crew room and right on queue he was. The stations rugby team was there to greet him along with a few more rugby enthusiast and he was swarmed with people wanting photos and him to sign shirts, rugby balls and all sorts. News came in that the helicopter would have to leave earlier because bad weather was coming into Benson so everything began to move a lot fast. A mad rush and Riche was gone again to meet with local schools’ rugby teams to give a talk on the importance of fitness. After a fairly rushed talk and meet and greet we were off again to meet with the puma. Time a quick snap in front of the Puma then straight on and dust off.

The sun was setting and it was beginning to get cold but Riche sat there un-phased as he read threw his spitfire magazine he had collected from somewhere or other. We dropped him off at Northolt once again and said a quick goodbye and what a pleasure it had been to meet him and that was it he was off and we continued our journey back to Benson. We arrived back to Benson to the sun just about to fully set on this action packed but heavily tiresome day. We landed thanked the aircrew for their friendliness and obviously for being our personal chauffeurs for the day.