Welcome to my blog.

In 2008, I received a trial flight in a light aircraft - a flight which changed my life. After a mere thirty minutes in an asthmatic old Cessna, I decided I would become a pilot. It was love at first flight. As Leonardo Da Vinci famously said - Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”

However, like any relationship, there were highs (and there were puns!) and there were many moments where I thought I would never grasp this new skill.

After fifteen instructors, six flying schools and enough tears to fill a dam, I became a private pilot. And, because of a strong masochistic streak, I decided to study for my Commercial Pilot's Licence.

This blog is a working narrative of my time as a pilot, through my personal writing, my round Australia trip and my career as an aviation journalist, magazine editor, customer engagement manager for AvPlan EFB and aircraft salesperson for Cirrus Sydney.

Aviation has changed my life: through learning to fly I have discovered a part of myself that is resilient, organised and capable of great joy as a result of hard work, setbacks and learning.

In the words of Socrates, “Man must rise above the Earth – to the top of the atmosphere and beyond – for only thus will he fully understand the world in which he lives.”

Thanks for reading, and please feel free to email me with advice and suggestions on


Monday, December 20, 2010

Hornet Tattoo


My Dream Wings

Above Brissy International Airport, 1500 ft

Gold Coast

Hooray for RA, Part Two

After five hours of fun in the Foxbat, I'm told I'm ready to sit my RA flight test.

Or so I thought...

Turns out, upon examination of the log book, I don’t have the required solo hours.
“No worries” says the ever-chipper Greg. “We’re not fully booked today. We’ll do a couple of circuits, just to freshen you up, and then I’ll hop out and you can do your point eight and then we’ll do the test..”

Which was fine. Except, my stomach felt a bit wobbly; a bit like I’d had caterpillars for breakfast.

I don’t know why, but for me it doesn’t matter how many hours I have inscribed in the log book, I still get nervous flying a new machine solo. I try and focus on the walkaround, with Greg watching my every move. Opening the cowling and ‘burping’ the engine calms me, as I mentally make friends with the Foxbat again, talking to the little yellow bird (in my head, as Greg’s standing right there and I’ve already been caught talking to machines in the past) and reintroducing myself, as if she knows who I am. This internal patter works, and by the time we’re taxying, it feels like yesterday I was adjusting the seat and soaring around the circuit at the Oaks.

It has, in fact, been a matter of weeks and I’m glad Greg’s with me for the first few circuits. I’m reminded to lift the wing when turning crosswind, and not to fly over Grumpy Man’s house on base. All too soon, we’re coming in to land and I remember why I fell in love with this machine in the first place. The space on that envelope between the approach speed and the stall is so big! You can slip, slide, dive and twist without getting remotely close to the stall speed. S-bend turns on final? Not in GA! But in the Foxy, ahhhhh....there’s plenty of time as she just glides and glides.

After three circuits, I’m back in my stride, and Greg hops out with a ‘have fun, I’ll see you in a bit!’. I do a few more circuits and then depart for the training area. As I’m flying around, about to launch into the second verse of “Fly me to the Moon”, I realise I really AM having fun. I know the area, I know the strip, the weather is lovely, my tanks are full...I feel equipped to write a book on the Meaning of Happiness!

All too soon, the point eight of an hour is up, and it’s time to go in and begin the test. As I’m turning base, I call a touch-and-go, not quite ready to become earthbound yet. On short final, Greg radios me to tell me to come in, as someone needs the plane for a short flight check before my test. I gulp. Will I make a full-stop from here? I bang in full rudder and opposite aileron and down she comes. Touching down just after the numbers, I yell “I am side-slipping QUEEN!” almost forgetting not to brake TOO hard, and to slow her down gently.

“Wasn’t sure if you’d get her in from there” remarked Greg. “Well done. I’ve taught you well. Now, let’s do a bit of paperwork and get on with this test.”

With the paperwork bit being relatively short (relative to GA) we were off again. We did steep turns, stalls, slow flight, climbing and descending turns. I expected Greg to put me through the mill; he’s known in the field as a ‘tough but fair’ examiner, with a real focus on ‘seat of your pants’ flying. I wasn’t, however, prepared for what came next.

There are words you never want to hear from your instructor:
“fire!” is one of them. “mayday” is another.
“I don’t want to alarm you” is a third.

I got the third.

“I don’t want to alarm you but....I’m going to turn off the engine”
Of course, at first it didn’t register. I thought, “he’s going to retard the throttle to idle’. But, blow me down, he reaches over to the ignition and turns off the engine!

You haven’t heard silence until you’re eighteen hundred feet above the ground without an engine. The silence was, impossibly, deafening. After several seconds of shock, the training kicked in and I adopted best glide. We were probably no more than a mile or two from the strip, and I knew we would make it as I lined up for base.

“Umm, what are you doing?” asked Greg.
“Lining up for base” I retorted.
“You’re going to take a tail wind?” he asked
“Well, it’s under five knots, and given we’ve got NO ENGINE....”
“I don’t think so. Do it properly. You have plenty of time”

And, he was right. It just kept on going...I even had to slip a little bit off at the end. With the engine restarted, I flew a few more circuits (demonstrating my side-slipping prowess) before coming to a full-stop.

Greg said the magic words,
“congratuations, you’ve passed”
and I became a fully-fledged member of another club - the “I survived a mid-flight engine off” club!

note: back on the ground, with my RA cert tucked neatly in my wallet and time to reflect, I have to say that the engine off experience was possibly the most instructive and useful exercise I’ve ever undergone. Should I lose my engine in flight, I will now be completely confident of being able to land without panic. I’d like to thank Greg Davies of Sydney Recreational Fliers for being an amazing, patient and thorough instructor.

Hooray for RA

Hooray for RA!

Four years ago, when I stepped onto the wobbly path that would lead me to my GA PPL, I didn’t even know Recreational Aviation existed. From a family with no aviation blood, I stepped up to a flying school in Bankstown for a TIF, became firmly hooked, then realised it was a Sausage Factory. Thus began my career of bolting from one flying school to another until I found someone with the patience to teach me.

Ten instructors, three schools and two airfields later - after a six week wait for CASA - I finally had my PPL. It took over 100 hours, two exams, a medical and most of my funds.

Like many students, I’ve been through the wringer - instructors on their way up to the airlines who were more comfortable with The Mechanics of Flight than people; pilots so young they’d blush through the entire lesson, never having been that close to a woman before; schools that would cancel lessons without notice; places with secretaries apparently trained by Corrective Services...the list goes on. I decided I’d like to train as an instructor and ‘make a difference’ so I sold my small business to fund my CPL and began working through the exams.


In an hour-building solo flight from Sydney to Perth, out there in the scrub, I discovered RA. Time and time again, I’d run into people at airfields and clubs flying aircraft I’d never seen before. My only experience of recreational aviation in Sydney had been flying over the Oaks:

Me: ‘Oooh, what goes on down there?’

Instructor: ‘Oh, you know, just ultralights.’

Out of the cities, the attitude was different, and it wasn’t long before I met people who filled me in. By the time I reached the west coast of the continent I’d sat in more Jabs than I’d failed CASA exams, not to mention all sorts of exciting home builds. But it was in Busselton, WA - where I met CFI Will Owen - that I fell in love (not with Will, but with his A22 Foxbat). One flight, and I was gone. With enough power to keep me out of trouble, and the visibility of a chopper, I knew I’d have to learn to fly it.

Time passed...I continued to rent Archers...and then along came Natfly. Unsure whether or not GA aircraft were welcome, and afraid of having rotten tomatoes thrown at my Archer, I decided not to fly in. I had no idea what to expect.

What I found inspired me to become an RA Aus member immediately. The friendliness, the enormous range of aircraft - new, affordable and with modern avionics - and the total lack of prejudice - GA, RA, gyrocopter. What does it matter? We ALL fly! Not to mention not needing an annual medical, reams of paperwork and several exams. I hear the magazine is pretty good, too.

I decided to book a lesson in Sydney as soon as I got back home.

On a day so blustery most of the lessons were cancelled, I rocked up at Sydney Recreational Flyers, at the Oaks. With my log book chronicling nearly 500 hours and my fancy pants noise-cancelling headset were the only indicators that I was coming ‘over’ from GA, I felt like an aero virgin all over again.

Everything was different!

Firstly, things at the Oaks are a little more casual than the Class D strips from which I’ve flown: aircraft in various states of repair were dotted around, the loo was a ‘dunny’ and more of the pilots had beards. I immediately relaxed in the informal atmosphere of the flying club as instructor Greg Davies and I discussed whether it was worth going for a first flight. Being a ‘suck it and see’ kinda gal, I decided we should give it a go, on the proviso we’d return if it got too bumpy.

Secondly, the aircraft are quite different. After the steady drone of a Lycoming, I couldn’t get over the quiet buzz of the Rotax. There’s no mixture lever! And the Foxbat has no flaps, just ‘flaperons’ which we would not be using in our first lesson. I discovered finger brakes, which I loved.

It was all very different, and not being the fastest learner in the land I allowed myself plenty of time to get acquainted with my new bird.

Greg spent a lot of time on the daily, popping the cowling open to show me the shiny and unfamiliar Rotax 912. Slowly working our way through the cockpit, I noticed the absence of the AH and DI , remarking “Gah! I can’t fly on a compass!” to which Greg replied, “By the time we’ve finished with you, you’ll be able to fly without any instruments. The one thing I find in conversions from GA is pilots with an over reliance on instruments. We’ll make a seat of the pants pilot of you yet!”

Greg gave me control and we taxied to the ‘run-up bay’ (on the side of the strip) using the finger brakes (which make SO much sense!) then we were OFF! Like a rocket! At 1400 fpm with a nose attitude so high it made a GA pilot sweat.

In no time we were at circuit height, and I was experimenting with the RPMs, the engine sounding quite different to the one in the old Archer. With no mixture or carby heat, the downwind checks were short. And then, get this, we pulled the power and didn’t touch it again. Every approach is a glide approach, which Greg explained as a hangover from the days of two stroke engines (which failed more often, apparently).

After a few circuits, we zipped out to the training area for some general handling work, where I was once again amazed by this little yellow machine - it stalls at 26 knots! Greg encouraged me to spend some time in slow flight (35 knots, gulp!) to get used to the margin between slow flight and the stall. In the stall, it was sedate, needing only an inch or so of lowered nose to unstall and not the full power-on I’m used to.

All too quickly, it was back to the field for a few more circuits. With the wind having dropped, we decided to do five before calling it a day.

Well, I had a ball! I could have stayed for the full endurance. The Foxbat is, simply, so much fun to fly. I booked my next lesson on the spot. At $125 per hour, I can actually afford one.

Little Yellow Flying Fox

Girl with a Foxy Bat

Grass Roots

Sydney Recreational Fliers


...it's been such a long time. And such a steep learning curve. Sport Pilot is now into its eighth issue, and I'm starting to kneel the fantastic plastics apart. There are so many well equipped aircraft in this category, it's hard not to become enthused with each new one I fly...

My heart, though, in this category at least, goes out to the Foxbat.....

Me, going cub class

Diary of a Dep Ed - Part Four


My first Natfly - RA AUS' annual fly in, now held at Temora. Twas a whirlwind of meet and greets, new aircraft (kit, homebuilt, factory) and a whole new language.

Photographer Mark and I wandered around for the entire weekend, meeting people and flying stuff. I do believe the Carbon Cub was the piece de resistance for me; but I had SO much fun flying every different kind of aircraft, it's hard to say. I even braved a gyrocopter - which wasn't as scary as it looked.

Photos to follow....

My New Baby

Jasper's Brush Strip - where the cattle graze

Four Birds

Midair Shot


Diary of a Dep Ed - Part Three

In a stroke of great fortune, I managed to wangle a flight home from Wagga in an EC145!

On my trip, while departing Broken Hill, I met and subsequently became friends with a chopper pilot. We stayed in touch, and when he had to return the Mighty Machine to Bankstown for maintenance, I was given the privilege of the left hand seat (which, interestingly - and thankfully - is not the Command seat).

A splendid flight ensued - once again I'm in awe of the helicopter and its capabilities - the fact that it needs no runway, can land on a titchy cirlce with an H in the middle, can hovver and has visibility I can only dream of!

As one of only four of its type in the country, I'm a lucky gal to score a trip in it. I look forward to writing the article A Day In the Life of a Helicopter Pilot....

Dunc, me and the Mighty EC

Liberty and me

Diary of a Dep Ed - Part Two

My next assignment - and a thumb in the nose to the weather gods - was out of Bankstown. On a glorious CAVOK day, I was introduced to the Liberty XL2
which along with Demo Pilot Nigel, I took for a spin (although not literally).

It's a very sporty little number, with blissfully comfortable bucket seats, and rudder pedals that come to you (so for once, I am spared the indignity of having to sit on a cushion!) It has a FADEC (full authority digital engine control) system, which means no mixture, no carby heat and pretty much no checks! It also has a stick, rather than a yoke, which I prefer (whatcha make of that, Uncle Freud?) as I find it more intuitive.

After pootling around in the training area, we headed over to Camden to see how it handled in the circuit. With a TAS 120 knots, it's a zippy little thing, and yet surprisingly stable.

As I picked up the ATIS, the weather gods became the embodiment of the sneaky instructor who throws in a crosswind on the sim, just as you've set up a nice, stable approach.

"Here ya go, test-pilot gal! Here's 15 knots for ya!"

"Puh, weather gods!" retorted I. "I should THANK you! I mean, there's nothing like tricky conditions to put a new aircraft to the test, is there?"

"Ooooh, what about some turbulence, at about 200 feet, then? We know how you LOVE that!"

"Bring it on!" said I, whilst adding, breathlessly, "you're on with me here, Nigel, right?"

Which of course he was. I mean, what kind of Demo Pilot lets a 150 hour PIC loose in his $250,000 aircraft, in a crosswind, on her first landing? So, we did it together. It handled very nicely. We did a few more. Sweet. Bit slippery in the flare, and, rather like a tail-wheel, it needs to be pinned down on landing, but can take off with full-flap, so uses very little runway.

On the way back, we did a couple of steep turns (wonderful visibility) and some stalls (very sedate) and came in to land at Bankstown, with the wind largely down the runway.

AS we taxiied back to Schoey's, I realised two things:
a) you can't put a price on comfort whilst flying
b) I LOVE my job!

Bonanza Pilot of the Future

David Young's son, and a very grumpy sky

V Tail

Diary of a Dep Ed - Part One

Whilst strolling blissfully amongst the vintage ladies of avalon (the aircraft, not the darling gals from the Australian Women's Pilots Association) I received a text from Mr Bigg*

"have you checked out the Bonanza society yet. Poss feature for next ed?"

Faster that you can say "luxury aircraft" I've managed to locate the society, meet the president and tee up a test fly day in Redcliffe, QLD.

Upon my return, of course, it was the first on the To Do List. The delightfully helpful president of the Bonanza Society had organised several aircraft for me to sample, and I'd had an offer from a V-tail pilot to join us up at Redcliffe the next day.

Tickets booked, photographer arranged, car hired and guess what? Yeps, the entire weekend was spent almost exclusively on the ground, whilst three shiny Bonanzas begged to be flown. As flies to wanton boys are we to the weather gods....

The cloud base barely budged from 300 feet, until around 4pm, when I was due to depart for Sydney. Where Else But Queensland - indeed!

With a deadline looming, I couldn't reschedule. However, as mindless optimism is part of the job description, I hung around, waiting for it to improve, and managed to have a top time, nonetheless. I interviewed several Bonanza owners, got to check out the G1000s synthetic vision (whoah! It's amazing!), managed a few low level circuits and got to know the Bonanza almost as well as I know my own family. In fact, I dream of adding one to the family...

It really is a suburb aircraft - the Jaguar of aeroplanes - comfortable, speedy and dashing.

Now, who can lend me $300,000?

* (note: My editor really IS called Mr Bigg, which delightfully justifies my Carrie Bradshaw of Aviation claims)

Life's a Beech

More Avalon Action

An air show is always a test; a trial in which we discover our Aircraft Saturation Point.

Day one always finds me skipping between military fighters, executive jets and the vintage ladies. Day two is spent watching the displays, with day three left over for the trade stands and catching up with various av-heads.

This year, it was all topsy - day one was work, day two was work with a quick peek at the helicoptors (I know!! It's an illness...) and day three was further work, followed by a smattering of nattering and yet another early night.

But, ahhhh, the little black book of test flights began to fill. I scored another job. I met the charming members of the AOPA board and had the privilege of sitting in the cockpit of the L-39 Albatros.

I met the members of the RA AUS board, and have been invited to Natfly over Easter. I encountered the most pristine Beech Bonanza, on which I'm hoping to write a centrefold. And I have a few gems lined up for review.

On Sunday, as I was heading back to the city from St Kilda, I spied a bi-plane circling the city, and still gasped, and with head tilted skywards admired its grace. I guess Aircraft Saturation Point, for me, is yet to come....

L-39 Albatros

Avalon Action

Armed with an All Areas Media Pass,THREE pencils and the red shoes, I'm off to the 2011 Avalon Air Show!

Watch this space....

Avalon Air Show 2011