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

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.

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