PIONEERING: Milskil trains RAAF fighter pilots and is the first business of its kind in the country. Pictured is CEO and founder John Lonergan, after the company secured $100 million in Defence contracts. Picture: Jonathan Carroll When John Lonergan finished his 17-year stint in the air force, he found himself at a crossroads.
Despite a decorated military career – including being named fighter pilot of the year – the only place he could put his expertise to use was a commercial airline.
“They only value a small part of the skill set,” Mr Lonergan said. “It’s like getting a masters degree and then working a job at McDonald’s.
“I decided to pursue the idea of re-investing military skills back into Defence because I saw they were just being wasted.”
Fifteen years later, Mr Lonergan is chief executive officer of Milskil, an East Maitland-based company that provides simulator and ground school training to the fighter pilots and weapons systems operators in the Royal Australian Air Force.
Starting out with two instructors based at Williamtown in 2001, its workforce has grown to 40 people –primarily ex-military instructors from Australia and the United States- who work across bases at Williamtown, Tindal and Amberley.
Mr Lonergan said the company, which will relocate to the Williamtown Aerospace Park next year,was the closest thing you could get to another air force squadron outside the RAAF.
“We’re kind of hidden from plain sight, because the work we do is completely integrated with the operational air force personnel,” he said.
On Wednesday, a $100 million contract was formalised between Milskil, its partner Raytheon and Defence that will see the company continue to do the pilot training for the Classic Hornet and Super Hornet.
It has also been awarded the contract for the Growlers, which arrive in Australia early next year.
“Our whole job in life is to replace people in green suits so they can do more of their operational job,” Mr Lonergan said.
The company also expects to vie for the training contract for the Joint Strike Fighters, due to arrive at Williamtown in 2018.
“In a nutshell, we are positioning for it and we believe we are well-positioned, noting that we are the only company in Australia that’s ever delivered this type of training.”
Mr Lonergan said employees had the “best of both worlds” by doing nearly the same job they did in the military, without the personal toll of long postingsoverseas.
“The attraction for them is they have a very unique set of skills which they can use to help train the next generation of fighter air crew.”
But it was also the character of the person – driven, and with a winning mentality – that made them a good pilot.
“It is kind of like an elite sport, you are always trying to do better, you are always in competition with your peers.
“When you’re a fighter pilot, there’s no second place.”