Breaking new ground
Flight Lieutenant Chris Polman describes himself as a master of many trades, whose insatiable curiosity continues to break new ground in innovative science and technology.
CAPTION: Trainee avionics technician Seaman Nattapol Popan, right, receives theory instruction from Royal Australian School of Technical Training Instructor Flight Lieutenant Chris Polman. Story by Flight Lieutenant Julia Ravell.
During his 21-year Air Force career, Flight Lieutenant Polman has travelled the globe, living in locales few tourists have explored, from the Middle East to Pohnpei, a remote Micronesian Island with no industrial or other infrastructure, where inhabitants have pursued the same traditional lifestyles for centuries.
His favourite subjects at Brighton High School were maths and science
“I loved the fact that maths and science have definite answers, like technology; it’s either good enough or it’s not, it either works or it doesn’t,” Flight Lieutenant Polman said.
His father, an electrician in Adelaide, likely had some influence over him. As a five-year-old, he was often found in his father’s garage, dismantling broken household electronics and appliances to see how components fitted together.
“I wouldn’t describe myself as a creative person, but I’ve always wanted to know how everything works; what drives mechanical systems, how all the components fit together and how and why things happen when you push a button,” Flight Lieutenant Polman said.
He first enlisted in the Air Force aged 17 as an avionics technician, a role in which he spent 20 years performing numerous different roles in a vast range of different environments, from technical maintenance to capability manager.
When Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 came down in 2014, then Sergeant Polman had an important role to play as Defence Capability Manager for sonobuoys.
To get the re-programmed sonobouys to the search site, he had to work hard to shorten the importation process from eight months into eight hectic days so they could be used to scan the 60,000 square kilometres of ocean for the missing plane’s emergency beacon.
In 2017, Sergeant Polman had a rare opportunity to act as personal assistant to the Chief of Air Force, Air Marshall Leo Davies – a job he was hand-picked for.
When Flight Lieutenant Polman applied for officer selection early last year, the Commissioning Board gave him the highest score ever achieved in the Air Force for a commissioning airman.
“That’s a reflection of the investment the people around me have put into my career, not of me,” Flight Lieutenant Polman said.
It was also evidence that Air Force recognises the value of varied experiences in non-traditional pathways to outstanding career success.