Prime deployment for Perth pilot

Published on Ms Natalie Staples (author), ABIS Richard Cordell (photographer)

Lieutenant Benjamin Thomson, a pilot onboard HMAS Perth, stands in front of the MH-60R Seahawk Helicopter on the ships flight deck.  (photo: ABIS Richard Cordell)
Lieutenant Benjamin Thomson, a pilot onboard HMAS Perth, stands in front of the MH-60R Seahawk Helicopter on the ships flight deck.

Being the eyes in the sky for a Navy warship is nothing new for Lieutenant Benjamin Thomson who has deployed to the Middle East region with a cutting edge aircraft in HMAS Perth.

Lieutenant Thomson has the distinction of being one of the first pilots to fly the MH-60R Seahawk ‘Romeo’ helicopter operationally and says it is a moment he has been working towards for the past decade.

“I grew up in country Victoria, in a place called Bright which is a small town, which had a population of about 2,500,” he said.
“I went to Bright P-12 College, and outside of school, I worked as a fruit and veg boy at the local IGA and as an assistant tennis coach at the tennis club.

“I used to enjoy getting involved in community sports like footy, cricket, tennis, and indoor soccer."

Whilst still at school her started his Defence Force application process and was fortunate to be awarded one of the education awards from the AustralianDefence Force Academy.

“As part of the prize they flew a Squirrel helicopter onto the school oval, which was pretty awesome – something that the school wasn’t accustomed to,” he said.

Lieutenant Thomson subsequently joined the Navy in January 2006 and enrolled in the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra where he completed a Bachelor of Technology in Aviation.

“After university, I went to Tamworth, New South Wales, and did the basic pilots' course, before attending the advanced Flight Training School at Pearce, Western Australia, where I was awarded my pilot’s wings,” he said.

“When I graduated there was a pilot backlog so I spent just under a year working as an Aide De Camp for an Admiral and had some awesome experiences travelling with him to China, Korea and Indonesia.”

In 2011, Lieutenant Thomson started his helicopter conversion training at 723 Squadron, in Nowra, and spent another year-and-a-half consolidating his skills, before getting an overseas posting.

“I was lucky enough to get selected to do Seahawk Romeo conversion training in the United States, so I was shipped across to Florida for a year-and-a-half, returning in late 2014 as part of 725 Squadron.”

Since then, Lieutenant Thomson has moved to 816 Squadron, flying the Seahawk Romeo as part of the Australian aircraft's fist duties as part of Operation MANITOU.  

“Having been in the Navy for almost 10-and-a-half years now, you spend all that time waiting to get to this point and finally it’s here,” he said. 

“I’m looking forward to seeing how much the new helicopter can benefit the ship and also how Navy is playing a part in global strategic operations.”

While he excited about the opportunities, Lieutenant Thomson said there are a few creature comforts he misses. 
“Good coffee and a nice Aussie brunch – I'm also looking forward to catching up with Mum and Dad back in Bright after the deployment,” he said.

“Dad’s now retired but used to be a teacher at the local school and mum works in aged care.”

Lieutenant Thomson is part of the 63rd rotation of a Royal Australian Navy ship to the Middle East region.  

This is the first time Perth has deployed on Operation MANITOU, which is Australia’s contribution to counter-terrorism, counter-piracy, narcotics interdiction.