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Chinook Crew 'Chick' (Paperback)

Highs and Lows of Forces Life from the Longest Serving Female RAF Chinook Force Crew Member

Aviation > Aviation Biography & Memoirs Aviation > Royal Air Force Military > Biographies Military > Memoirs Military > Post-WWII Warfare > Afghanistan War Women of History

By Liz McConaghy
Imprint: Air World
Pages: 184
ISBN: 9781399072960
Published: 23rd October 2023

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Liz McConaghy, from a small town in County Down, spent a total of seventeen years flying with the RAF’s Chinook Fleet. Aged just 21, she was the youngest aircrew member to deploy to Iraq and was also the only female ‘crewman’ on the Chinook wing for four years. In her astounding career Liz McConaghy completed two deployments to Iraq followed by ten deployments to Helmand province in Afghanistan in support of the enduring Operation Herrick campaign.

Liz’s inspiringly honest story reveals the highs and lows that she witnessed at war, and the cost that came with that both, physically and mentally for those involved. During her deployments, she survived not only a near fatal wire strike onboard her CH47, but numerous enemy fire ‘contacts’ defending her crew by returning fire from both the M134 ‘Minigun’ and M60 weapons entrusted to her to operate.

Her biggest honour of all her duties, however, was serving on the Medical Emergency Response Team, or MERT, flying ambulance as it was more commonly known. This involved recovering wounded soldiers from the battlefield, often under fire, and witnessing them both die and indeed come back to life at her feet in the cabin of her Chinook.

Liz saw Camp Bastion grow from a barbed wire fence surrounding an area of tents in the sand to the huge Operating Base it became. She was also on the last 1310 Flight deployment there as the British forces withdrew 10 years later handing it back to the Afghan National Army.

Very few Chinook crew members, if any, spanned the length of time deployed as Liz McConaghy did. This is a genuinely unique tale that only Liz could tell, which ends with her battling the memories that haunted her, long after she had left the battlefield. Her own war within took her to the point of suicide once she had left the service. Her survival from both the battles in foreign lands and in her own head led her to begin telling her story, in the hope she can help others win their wars.

Article featured: Liz McConaghy named 2023 Inspirational Women in Defence by the Defence Discount Service.

RAF News - July 28, 2023

'All you could hear above the deafening roar of the rotors was the 'ting ting ting' of bullets hitting the Chinook'

International Express

Enjoyed it.

Read full review here

Historical Miniatures Gaming Society

Article: Liz McConaghy racked up an incredible 3000 flying hours manning the guns on the RAF's heavy-lift helicopters over 17 action-packed years, including 12 deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq. But she paid a heavy price once the missions ended ...

Daily Express

"It's a powerful story, with a mix of Irish humour, strong news on the then RAF approach to personal issues raised by those in combat and a brutally honest finale. Go buy a copy today."

Helicopter International - January-February 2023

Review as featured in

The Armourer

Hopefully, Liz McConaghy’s exposure of her own experiences will serve to help others. She tells her story well and it will be an ‘eye opener’ for those who have had little or no exposure to the harsher consequences inherent in service life.

RAF Historical Society Journal

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

When I first saw the title of this book, I was intrigued by it.

When I was 15 years old, I was lucky enough to hitch a ride on a Chinook. My dad was in the RAAF and my best friend's dad had been posted to another base. Somehow, her dad arranged for me to go on this flight (he was an officer and my dad was only a corporal, so I am sure it was him). I will never forget the crew sharing the chocolate from their ration packs with me. But the highlight was putting on a harness, them putting the ramp down and me dangling my legs over the edge. The view and the buzz of the whole experience was incredible and I have had a soft spot for Chinooks ever since. I fully understand why Liz was so insistent about crewing on the Chinook.

As I read this book, my admiration for this woman really grew and grew. She worked SO hard and she put her body through the wringer as she did it. This is one person who really gave her all for her country and her mates. So sad about the soldiers who didn't make it :(

When I was reading about the simulated torture scenarios she had to get through, I was absolutely shivering inside. How anyone can get through that kind of thing for real, I just don't know. Man's inhumanity to man clearly knows no bounds.

Liz sounds like an absolute delight, or should I just call her Gloria? That helmet label really made me laugh, lots!

Good on her for being so honest about the psychological struggles she went through. I am sure there are lots of ex-service people who appreciate reading that as well.

5 stars from me.

NetGalley, Monica Mac

Featured in

RAF News - Friday, November 18, 2022

Aerospace book choices for Christmas, the best of 2022's aviation books.

Royal Aeronautical Society

ARTICLE: Local woman's book looks at life in a Chinook during wartime

The Newtownards Chronicle

Article: Local woman's book looks at life in a Chinook during wartime: 'Each of the stretchers came over the ramp and each had a flag over the body'

County Down Spectator

This is a unique tale that only Liz could tell, which ends with her battling the memories that haunted her long after she had left the battlefield.

Air Mail. RAF Association, October - December 2022

This is a genuinely unique tale that only Liz could tell.

Watch the Video Review Here

Scale Modelling Now

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This was a brilliant book. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and it was so very interesting. This wonderful story was extremely hard to put down. So I read it all in one sitting. It was a fantastic insight into the authors military career. And guess what she is doing the job that I wanted lol. But I couldn't even try as my medical issues wouldn't even get my signed up so I'm very jealous lol. The book also covers so difficult events and commend the author for writing about them as it must of been very difficult. This book shows the true life traumas of war and the problems this has on our serving hero's. This book was very well wrote a d flowed amazingly. It was a real page turner. This book will definitely take you on a roller coaster ride. It's an emotional journey both good and sad. I really can't recommend this book enough. If you really won't to know what life is like or just love everything military then you should read this book. It had so many funny stories aswell. I loved the one with the water fortress that had me laughing.

Only the highest of praise goes out to the author and publishers for bringing us this wonderful story that im positive you will find very interesting. I really hope the author writes more books as I would really love to read more. I also want to thank her for her service to our country.

NetGalley, Claire Lavin

It is an enthralling and deeply emotional journey that the author takes the reader on. This is a story full of adrenaline highs and lows flying into hot landing zones, surviving a wire strike, and immense fortitude that is tested to the limit after she leaves the RAF. It is an inspiring story and one that will hopefully encourage more veterans to come forward and speak about their experiences not only to encourage people to join the forces but also to help veterans by showing that it is okay to reach out for help. There are many things in war that can affect any service member that are hard for non veterans to understand and its through books like this that they can not only begin to understand the stresses but also how to help those who find themselves in need. My words cannot express how much I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Chinook helicopters, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and most importantly to anyone that is struggling with post traumatic stress disorder or anyone that knows someone who is. It is truly an inspiring story of courage, sacrifice, and resilience. A well deserved “Bravo Zulu” to Liz for her service and her willingness to share her journey with the public.

Todd Shugart - Aviation News

As featured in

Gazette (Basingstoke)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

"We had pilots who could work out the square root of a jam jar but couldn't take off the lid"

As soon as I heard that this book was coming out I knew that I wanted to read it. I have never read a military book from a female officer before and I was eager to get my hands on this one. Luckily I was sent an ARC (Advance Reader Copy) and so I have spent most of the night reading it in one sitting.

It is quite a page turner and I couldn't put it down. I love the writing style, which is extremely accessible. The author is very informal and her work reads like a girly chat over a glass of wine, where she tells you all about her adventures, heartbreaks and triumphs.

Sometimes military books can have quite a condescending tone, an I'm it, you're shit sort of vibe, but happily Chinook Crew Chick isn't like that at all. The author draws you into her world with humour and a degree of self-deprecation which just makes her seem all the more charming.

These lighter moments are essential because the book covers some very dark topics. As a memoir it doesn't have any real self-help techniques contained within its pages, which are the type of hybrid military books I usually read, but it is nonetheless very inspiring and I still feel that I got a lot out of it.

The main thing that I have taken away from reading this book is an insight into what happened in Afghanistan when the Chinooks were sent out to pick up wounded soldiers. I know soldiers who were on operations over there and it helped to give me a clearer picture of what they experienced, both when bringing back a wounded comrade (who is now living his best life in the Highlands!) and also when bringing back a fallen friend who hadn't survived.

This kind of insight is invaluable to me if I am to be a good friend to my soldiers, but it's not the kind of thing I could ask them about for fear of triggering bad memories. The author has equipped me with another piece of the jigsaw puzzle, so I have a better understanding of their time there. It may seem like a small thing, but being able to picture the situation they were once in helps me to understand them a little better. Who knows, it might even have been Gloria Stitz herself who picked them up! In some ways, I hope that it was as she seems to be the type of person who would have made the journey easier for them, with her kindness and humour.

Speaking of humour, some of my favourite parts of the book made me laugh out loud, including when the author is hanging head first out of a helicopter with only a bit of a strap to keep her from plummeting to the ground and she had to radio her boss to come and haul her back in! Also the vomiting on his boots too - probably not the best way to impress your boss! And Gloria. I admit, it took me a minute, but yes, Gloria caught up with me and I laughed my head off.

Chinook Crew Chick is both a funny memoir and a sad one. War always leaves its mark on the soldiers who fight it. Often we cannot see these marks and the wounds are invisible to the eye, but they are no less real. If anything, an invisible wound can be more difficult to cope with because you cannot simply point to it and say "Look, I'm injured and I'm still suffering", so the help isn't always forthcoming when it is needed.

I know from personal experience that the NHS are useless when it comes to handling PTSD, so there is little help in society for ex-servicemen and women. Personally I believe that there should be greater levels of aftercare for ex-military personnel, which should be overseen by the MOD. I think that they should train battalions of counselors, in the same way that they are happy to train armies of human fighting machines. That way the help will be on hand when it is needed. If the MOD were to handle it then people wouldn't have to rely on charities to fill the gap in mental health services. Then again, I have also heard it said that 'the MOD couldn't handle a f**king pan', so maybe that's just a pipe dream!

Another aspect of the book which touched me deeply was when the author was writing of her own darkest hour. I remember studying suicidal ideation during my psychotherapy training and I have to say that the author has done a fantastic job of describing the dissociative thought process which can lead someone down the dark path to suicide. The logical thought process, cut off from all emotion, is starkly illustrated in the book, as is the example of how easy it is to just fall through the net of those who have a duty of care to protect, such as doctors, pharmacists and counselors. When will those in power learn that under-funding and overstretching these services really does cost lives? No-one should be allowed to fall through the net. No-one who reaches out for help should be sent away with a handful of leaflets and promises of a referral that can take months to action.

So obviously there are trigger warnings that come with this book, because topics of war, battle trauma and suicidal ideation are all covered. Having said that, Chinook Crew Chick is a fabulous page-turner and I have really enjoyed reading it. I am grateful for the insights it has given me as I can now be of better help to my soldier friends. I hope that the author will go on to write more books, particularly the military self-help books I find so useful. I am certainly happy to have been given the opportunity to read this one.

Books like this are so important because you simply never know how much good they will do once they have been set free into the world. You just have to trust that those who need it, will find it and that it will make a positive difference.

I for one am very glad that Liz McConaghy lived to tell her tale.

BB Marie x

NetGalley, Marie Bruce

As Featured In

The Basingstoke Gazette, 21st September 2022

I requested this book because of my love of aircraft and in particular Chinooks. This was a great insight and a really interesting read.

NetGalley, Karena Freeman

As featured in

The Bookseller

About Liz McConaghy

LIZ MCCONAGHY is an ex-RAF Chinook crewmember who has deployed worldwide with the CH47 fleet, including to Iraq and Afghanistan. She was the longest serving female in this role and the youngest aircrew to deploy to Iraq. Part of her role during these conflicts was the MERT medical recovery aircraft for injured soldiers. She left the forces in 2019 and went on to a career with a disabled flying charity to help support those same wounded soldiers into flying scholarships. Liz turned to writing both poetry and her autobiography following a tough battle with PTSD years after leaving the service, in the hope it may help others with their mental health.

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