From Scrum to Squirrel — Pilot Richie McCaw

Richie McCaw shares his journey from professional rugby player to helicopter pilot in Canterbury, New Zealand.


Richie comes from a family of aviators — his father flew fixed wings and his uncles were interested in gliding. So for Richie, it was natural that he was intrigued by the art of flying. 

In 2002, Richie started playing professional rugby in New Zealand. Off the field, he began learning to fly fixed wings which became his beloved hobby throughout his sporting life. As his career was approaching its end, Richie began to think about his next steps — which can be a challenging time for many professional sports people.

"History shows how hard it can be for people to make that transition when a sport has consumed so much of their lives. Through this transition I knew I needed three things — to keep learning, to be challenged and to remain part of a team." 

Always seeking a challenge, Richie decided to learn to fly helicopters with Terry Murdoch, the CEO at Christchurch Helicopters. Very quickly Richie 'caught the bug.'

Upon retiring from rugby, Richie was offered a position with the company.

Christchurch Helicopters is the premium aviation company in Canterbury, New Zealand. Their work is diverse — offering commercial helicopter work, scenic flights, pilot training and conservation response. The company's diversity is what Richie loves most about his role.

“We do a bit of everything — one day you can be flying around the mountains and showing off Canterbury's treasures, and the next you could be helping on a fire.”

christchurch helicopters

Richie is now one of the chief pilots and has taken on more responsibility at management level — a role that has allowed him to upskill as a pilot, be part of a successful team and to continue to be challenged on a daily basis. And so, this transition has felt very natural for him.

“That is what makes this business so special — no one day is the same which keeps you really excited.”

One of Richie’s career highlights was working to assist the community of Kaikoura in the 2016 earthquakes. Richie and his colleagues worked tirelessly, transporting supplies, people, resources, first aid equipment at. All roads in and out of the township had been destroyed in the earthquake and consequent slips, so pilots became Kaikoura's lifeline.

"We got asked to ferry some Urban Search and Rescue guys up first thing, so a couple of helicopters went up. I took the fire crew up just to make sure everyone was OK in the houses and the roads that were stuck there."

Richie was also a part of the team who helped fight the Canterbury Christmas Day Fire, which saw more than 20 fire trucks and five helicopters battling the flame.

“It’s great to be in the position where I can truly help people. That has been one of the most satisfying things about my transition from rugby to piloting.”

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