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Air Vice-Marshal Nicholson was born and attended school in Northam, WA. He joined the RAAF in 1968 after graduating from the University of Western Australia. He completed his pilot training at RAAF Base Pearce on the first all-through jet course and was posted to RAAF Base Williamtown for operational conversion to the Mirage aircraft. He subsequently served at Butterworth, Malaysia flying the Mirage in the tactical fighter role.


In 1973 Air Vice-Marshal Nicholson attended the Empire Test Pilots' School at RAF Boscombe Down where he won the McKenna Trophy as dux of his course. Following this training he was posted to Aircraft Research and Development Unit at RAAF Base Laverton and later moved with the unit to RAAF Base Edinburgh. He has served as a test pilot, Flight Commander and Squadron Commander with ARDU and has flown over 3,000 hours on 40 different aircraft types. He also holds a Commercial Pilot's Licence and is endorsed on several general aviation aircraft.

From 1988 to 1990 Air Vice-Marshal Nicholson was the inaugural Officer Commanding of RAAF Base Tindal and during this period was also the Sector Air Defence Commander of the Northern Sector. In 1992 he was the first RAAF officer appointed as Commander Northern Command where he was responsible for its reorganisation into the first integrated Joint Force Command of the Australian Defence Force. He was admitted as a Member of the Order of Australia in the 1995 Australia Day Honours for this work.

Air Vice-Marshal Nicholson is a graduate of the RAAF Staff College, the USAF Air War College and the National Defence College of Canada. He holds the degrees of Bachelor of Engineering and Master of Public Administration. He has held staff appointments in the Air and Engineering Staff of Air Force Office, as the Director of the Office of the Chief of the Air Staff and as the Director of Project Requirements for the Jindalee project. After a short period as Chief of Operations at Headquarters Air Command, he was promoted to Air Vice-Marshal and appointed Air Commander Australia on 9 April 1996. As a result of his work as Air Commander, he was admitted as an Officer of the Order of Australia in the 1999 Australia Day Honours.

Air Vice-Marshal Nicholson was appointed Head Strategic Policy and Plans, Australian Defence Headquarters on 9 June 1998. In this position, he was responsible for the formulation of strategic policy, the development of military strategy and operational capability policy. His most recent appointment on 1 July 1999 as Head C4ISREW Capability Staff has seen a shift of focus to high technology policy direction and capability development for the ADF.

In addition to an abiding interest in international affairs, military strategy and airpower, Air Vice-Marshal Nicholson is an enthusiastic but unskilled surfer and skier. He and his wife Marie have two adult children, Jeremy, a graduate of the Canberra School of Art who works as a graphics designer, and Amelia, who is studying at the University of Melbourne.

 
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