How I got to be a heli-musterer

Host: Fortescue Helicopters
Written by Weldon Percy – Operations Manager, Fortescue Helicopters.

G’Day my names Weldon Percy, co-owner and Operations manager for our business here’s a little bit about how I ended up doing what I do.

I was born and raised on my family’s cattle and sheep property at Hawkes Bay on the north island of New Zealand.

Blog 2.1

My grandfather established our family property after returning from WWII and it is still owned by my family today and ran by my father Vance Percy. On returning from several years in Queensland, Vance also established a Santa Gertrudis Stud which is where my passion for the breed comes from.

Mum and Dad tell me that as soon as I could walk I was going everywhere flat out which usually meant trying to work with Dad or Grandad with cattle, sheep, or whatever they were doing at the time.

Blog 2.2Me when I was younger.

In New Zealand they have what is called “The Correspondence School” which is similar to School of Air here except it is run via mail lessons and towards the end of my schooling via the internet. I completed all my schooling up to year 10 with The Correspondence School at home. I thought this was great because like most kids I didn’t like school work so most of the time I worked my schoolwork around farm work and the weather so rainy days were school days. Any days Dad was mustering there would be no chance of seeing me near the schoolroom. This is probably why my mother has so many grey hairs now, or at least that’s what she says. I was always flat out trying to keep up with everything that happened outside but one thing especially had my interest, flying.

Due to the nature of the hill country where we our property is and high rainfall an aeroplane was used once a year to spread fertiliser on all of our country and helicopters were often used for spraying crops and weeds when it was too wet or too steep to do it any other way. There was an airstrip about 2km away from our house and I used to sit for hours watching the aeroplanes work and hiding from mum and the schoolroom, this is where I developed my love of flying which has led me to be where I am today. Mum and Dad travelled to Queensland and NSW once every two years or so to visit friends and also to purchase semen and sires for the cattle stud at home, which is where I first got to see the “outback” of Australia.

After finishing school in Year 10 I worked at home and on neighbouring properties for 12 months mostly mustering with motorbikes and working dogs. While in Year 10 at school I started learning to fly aeroplanes at the local aero club and finished my private aeroplane license in 2006, when I was 17. In June 2006 I moved to Emerald in Central Queensland to work for Australian Agricultural Company (AACo) as a pen rider at Goonoo Feedlot. I really enjoyed my time at Goonoo and learnt a lot about the lot feeding industry but being young and impatient and wanting to work on a station I moved on after a few months.

Over the next two years I worked as a ringer and did little bit of fixed wing flying mostly in North Qld and one wet season on the Barkly Tableland flying doing bore runs and town trips etc. I completed my commercial helicopter license in Sydney at the end of 2008. I then got my first job as a mustering pilot with a company near Ayr in QLD and also worked on their properties and cane farms during the wet season. The Company ran an aerial spraying service for other farmers during the wet season and I gained my Agricultural Rating (you need qualifications for each type of flying you do) whilst working there.

I moved to Sylvania Station, near Newman in WA, four years ago to work as a mustering pilot for Smoothy Helicopters, the mustering division of which myself and Clint purchased at the beginning of 2014 to form Fortescue Helicopters. Smoothy Helicopters also has several R44 and recently an R66 to support mining exploration and continues to operate these now.

Blog 2.3Lifting drill rig equipment for Heli-Drill Australia with an R44.

Blog 2.4Spraying Sugar cane Nth Qld.

Blog 2.5A self guided tour of Ayer’s Rock.

Aside from the mustering I did for Smoothy’s, I also ended up doing quite a bit of other flying work, including aerial shooting for DAFWA and long line (lifting) work for an associated company Heli-Drill Australia. Often this work is on outside of mustering season and when the mining exploration industry was booming in the last few years this work kept me busy all year round, however with the recent economic downturn this has become much quieter. Occasionally I still fly for Smoothy Helicopters doing this other work when I’m not mustering for Fortescue Helicopters, but it’s not as enjoyable as going mustering!

As you can see I’ve been interested and involved in aviation from a young age, but my passion is the cattle industry, and I’d like to work towards owning my own cattle and land. Being a mustering pilot lets me combine flying and working with cattle at the same time so it’s pretty much my dream job. But there’s still some stressful days when I wish I were the dude that sells ice-cream at the beach, but I think everyone has those days no matter what job they work.