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, November 5, 2012

Bonanza On My Horizon

My love affair with the Bonanza started when I was a baby pilot of only a few hours. I was, and still am, pitiful at identifying aircraft. I suffer from mild prosopagnosia - an inability to remember faces - and the bizarre condition (which is a hazard in my job) seems to have smeared itself onto my ability to distinguish a Stearman from a Tiger Moth. But, put a Bonanza within three miles, and I'll spot it, identify it and beg the owner to take me for a spin...

My very first was IOL, at Hoxton Park, when I had fewer than 20 hours. My instructor, Nick Moss, introduced me to the pilot, Len, and within twenty minutes we were flying over the Blue Mountains. The gentlemanly Len (and they are always gentlemen, Bonanza pilots. Except for the ladies) even handed me the controls (although back then I wouldn't have known if the autopilot was engaged!)

I was smitten. With the grace of a Jaguar, the Bonanza invokes another era; a time when things were properly built, and men wore hats. Even the new ones, I have discovered, have a glorious feeling of history.

At my very first Avalon, Mr Bigg suggested I visit the Bonanza society and tee up an article. Again, within seconds I was sitting in a stylish 70s model, organising a flight with the owner David. Weeks later I flew to Redcliff to write a feature on this beautiful machine. We stood around, waiting for the cloud to lift and even though we didn't have a chance to demonstrate its long range capabilities, I was already hooked. It's love, I tell you. And it's not just me. Every Bonanza owner I've met feels the same way. They are all hooked.

 Beechcraft's slogan for the Bonanza, back in the day, was
"Buy your last aircraft first"

If only....

The Bonanza is out of my league in the same way as George Clooney is out of my league; with one subtle difference - as I get older and more experienced, my chances with the Bonanza improve, in direct proportion to my chances with the Silver Fox, who will forever covet (and win) younger women.

Hurrah for aviation and its appreciation of things mature!

Since the article, I've met (okay, stalked) many a Bonanza owner. So, you can imagine my delight when I received an email from Bevan Anderson of Avplan, inviting me to a tutorial in Wollongong, with the offer of being picked up and flown down in a Bonanza. IFR!

As we approached the aircraft (with the WAY cool call sign PMP) I was once again in awe; the fine lines, the club seating, the attention to tiny deals - sigh...solid, fast, good-looking - everything one desires in an aircraft...

We made Wollongong in 19 minutes. I wanted to fly it so much it hurt! Of course, I didn't touch a thing. To be allowed to fly a Bonanza is a privilege, and one I've yet to earn (and of course, first I will have to earn the money, to entitle me to the time, to gain me the experience...)

There are many exciting aircraft in Wollongong, home of HARS (Historical Aircraft Restoration Society) and even though they mostly looked the same to me (alright, I spotted an L39, and a Robin and was introduced to a pristine Grumman Cougar with the even cooler call sign of OMG) I would take the Bonanza over all of them.

After the tutorial and sausage sizzle, we headed back to Bankstown by night. There, in the still calm night air, with Sydney on the horizon, I promised myself to keep the Bonanza on my horizon.
I may not have earned it yet, as a 500 hour VFR pilot with a limited income, but, one day....one day....

And then maybe George Clooney will be calling ME...

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Ausfly - An Event Extraordinaire

 My parting words in my last phone call to David Brown, Vice President of SAAA and organizer of Ausfly were,

 “oh, and you have organized the weather with the gods of the sky, haven’t you?’

“Of course!” he scoffed.

Clearly, Mr Brown has a direct line to the elemental organisers, as the weather was as well planned as the rest of the event. Aside from the Thursday (the day I was scheduled to fly in, incidentally) the weather was splendid. Admittedly, it was a tad windy on the
morning of the Friday, and for those of us doomed to tents, it was a bit nippy in the wee hours (truth be told, my eyelashes welded together with frost and the idea of ‘glamping’ – glamorous camping –  was just that: an idea). Happily, though, the Saturday was stunning.

As the newly appointed editor of AOPA’s Australian Pilot magazine,  I arrived on the Thursday. Unable, or rather unwilling, to brave the enormous front moving towards Narromine, I hopped on Qantas to Dubbo and hired a car. When I arrived at the aerodrome on Thursday evening, the place was already abuzz.

Friday afternoon was spent catching up with all the old regulars – Bose, CASA, RA Aus, Jabiru, Pacific Avionics, Brumby, etc. We at AOPA had a display stand inside; it was fabulous to see so many of our members in the flesh.

The air displays on Friday were marvelous, and the barbeque a roaring success. Some one (who shall remain nameless) persuaded me of the anti-freeze qualities of red wine, and encouraged me to drink a-plenty to fight off the frost.

Saturday was taken up – after several paracetamol – with the AOPA safety seminars, the OzRunways seminar (packed!) and many visits to the coffee stall (their caramel tarts were to die for!).

Andrew Andersen at the AOPA seminar
The dinner, held in the hangar, was wonderful. The tables were laid with candles and stars, and the speeches were inspirational, particularly those from Peter Pretorious and young Ryan Campbell. Ryan is attempting to fly solo around the world, breaking the record of youngest soloist by four years. Greg Hood from CASA played a very charming game of ‘flight longevity’ leaving the oldest aviator in the room standing. The gentleman in question gained his pilot’s licence in 1952!

Sunday morning began with the sound of aircraft departing. AOPA conducted another seminar in the morning, on the changes imminent in avionics, particularly pertaining to ADS-b.

I took off around lunchtime, having scored a seat in AOPA president Andrew Andersen’s 182. The journey home to Bankstown (one hour and thirty seven minutes) provided us with the perfect time to dissect the event. We both agreed that the most delightful element of the event was seeing all factions of aviation together in one airshow – AOPA, SAAA, RA Aus, CASA, AWAL, etc 

Andrew’s conclusion,

"It's easy to be dominated by half-informed emotional negativity. Doing is harder than complaining. AOPA is working hard to represent the interests of everyone actively involved in general aviation. We appreciate the support of our members and the friendship of kindred organisations"

Summed up the event perfectly in my opinion. Word in the air is that the event will be on again next year.

One thing's for certain: I'm booking my accommodation right away; there'll be no glamping for me next year.

Monday, September 10, 2012

e-AOPA News Flash

eAOPA News Flash

An important message from AOPA Australia ...

AOPA Appoints New Editor for Australian Pilot Magazine

Appoints New Editor for Australian Pilot Magazine

Dear member,

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is happy to announce the appointment of Kreisha Ballantyne as the new editor of Australian Pilot magazine.

Kreisha is the former deputy editor, and has been a contributor to Australian Pilot for three years, and the editor of ePilot Extra for one.

The magazine will be now managed and produced in-house at the Bankstown office, where the editor will be contactable within office hours.

The magazine continues to aim high, remaining relevant to our members and attractive to new readers.

Kreisha welcomes submissions at editor@aopa.com.au
Copyright © 2012 Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association of Australia
All rights reserved.

You are receiving this email because you are a financial member of AOPA Australia.

Our mailing address is:
Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association of Australia
PO Box 26
Georges Hall, NSW 2198

Add us to your address book

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Friday, August 3, 2012

The Workhorse of the Skies

Over the mountains, a mere seventy minute flight away from Sydney (in a single engined Archer), stands a small company called Brumby. Family owned and operated, they've been making light, all metal aircraft for years and years. Some time ago, I flew their sporty little low wing and deemed it the aircraft I would buy should I ever purchase a two-seater; it's an elegant, sleek, bubble-canopied little bird, perfect for a gal who still likes to see rivets in her aircraft.

Two weeks ago, I received a call inviting me to come and fly their brand new aircraft - the Brumby 610 Evolution. I hopped in SFR and flew over the mountains to see whether the new machine was anything as swanky as its low wing sister.

Truth be told, the Evolution is not as good-looking - being a high wing, and packaged as a trainer, it lacks the streamlined, sporty cut of the low wing. It was, however, more delightful to fly - sturdier, more robust and certainly very forgiving. Fitted with a Rotax 912 - but with a Lycoming option in the works - it is aimed squarely at the training market. With an 18 lph fuel burn, 7 hour flight endurance and 110 knot cruise, it's a pretty fine option when compared to a 152, no matter which way you do the maths.

I took it for a spin (sadly, not literally, as spins are not approved in the LSA category) with Aerobatic Champ Paul, son of Phil - Mr Brumby himself. Climbing out at around 1200 fpm, we went to 4000 ft and tried a few stalls. With a stall speed of 37 knots, it seemed to take forever to get there; and when we did, it was barely noticeable - perhaps the politest stall I have even encountered - no wing drop, and a mere unloading of the nose was enough to unstall immediately.

After some steep turns, we went in for a few circuits. Paul handed it over to me to land, and it was, once again, extremely well behaved. It felt a good deal sturdier than anything else I have flown in this category, and certainly the closest thing to a GA trainer.

Paul then showed me around the factory, detailing each part and explaining why the aircraft is so sturdy   (due to its aluminium build, solid rivets and steel sprung main legs). With struts the same size as the 182s and a rudder like a barn door, it certainly cuts a GA figure. Phil came on board with some safety stats, informing me Brumby had hired an independent test pilot who spun the aircraft 56 times, testing the fore, mid and aft COG positions.

Overall, Brumby seem very satisfied with the Evolution. The hardest task ahead is changing the ancient mindset of schools and operators with regards to using LSAs. Their genius in providing a Lycoming option will hopefully bear fruit. After all, in a tough market like today's, with GA doing it hardest of all, it's reassuring to know there are options for students to learn to fly without having to earn in excess of 100K. Especially for those of us sick of flying the ancient asthmatic aircraft the majority of schools have online in Australia.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?

Sometimes I wonder if I'm too sensitive to be a pilot. Aside from instructors being able to make me cry and exams making me vomit, I wonder if my relationship with the weather is too intense. Too personal. That perhaps I give the weather gods too much power, raging Gloucester-style "Like flies to wanton boys are we pilots to the weather gods. They taunt us for their sport" every time it clouds over.

Luckily, the brilliant thing about flying is that it makes you examine your weaknesses and do something about them. The cockpit is no place for  inadequacies or histrionics. After a recent scare with cloud, and an unscheduled landing and overnight stay at Mittagong, followed by an amazing IFR flight to Canberra, I had already decided it is time for an instrument rating. FI have begun the implement of torture that is the IREX, but am as far away from an instrument rating at the moment as I am from being 65 kilos (at LEAST three months, but thankfully the IREX doesn't involve giving up cheese)...

Unluckily, these things take time, and money, and work.

So, when my Webmaster, Clay, came over from the States and had only one day on which we could fly, I exercised my right to plead with the weather gods.  I spent Monday in my office overlooking the Bankstown circuit, begging the gods to duplicate this very same day - sunny and crisp - tomorrow, for Clay's once-in-a-trip harbour scenic.

It's been a while since I have obsessively stalked the Bureau of Met. I have learned to let go of flights that are cancelled by weather, as I have learned to let go of flights that are cancelled by illness, a fault on the aircraft, or a plain gut feeling of not wanting to go. Or so I thought.

On Monday night, the weather looked iffy (the technical word being potentially overcast). With a 70% chance of rain, the worst of it looked to be in the morning. At five am, the TAF confirmed the iffiness, but the trend was towards improvement in the afternoon.

Clay and Kree (Before)
I phoned Clay (whom I'd never actually met) and passed on the news. He (and his wife Tracey) decided to arrive a bit later. It was still murky when they turned up at my place at 11am, so we sat round eating cake, waiting for the clouds to burn off. At twelve, we hopped in the car and headed out to the aerodrome.

The Automatic Weather Service claimed the clouds at Bankstown were scattered at two thousand six hundred feet, which is certainly enough to get into the harbour. The service at Sydney was less encouraging, but still possible. I called Sydney Terminal from the flying school and asked about my chances of getting into the harbour and was told "pretty good. Cloud's  a bit low, but it's possible"

I filed the plan and went out to check the aircraft. After a struggle (in which Clay nearly broke his wrist!) to get the oil cap off, a search for a fuel drain implement and a discussion about two loose screws on the spats, I gave my passengers a safety brief and strapped them in.

I started the engine, performed the checks, switched on the tower weather service and heard,

"Bankstown terminal information Juliet. Expect instrument approach....visibility six kms..."

I shook my head and shut down the engine.

As I apologised to Clay and Tracey, Clay (a pilot himself) said he understood, stating he wouldn't take off in this weather either.

Up until that point, I had had doubts, but assuaged them by  reminding myself that I know the route well, it's coastal, it's fairly low level, it's in controlled airspace....but, at that very moment, my belly said 'no. No. You will not take off in deteriorating weather. Not while you are a five hundred hour VFR pilot. No matter HOW much you want your friends to see the harbour'

Clay and Kree (After)
So, I dropped Clay and Tracey off at the train station (happy at least in the knowledge that they had climbed the bridge the night before, and seen the harbour from a great height already) pondering along the way on how we never know the results of our not going - whether we would have been alright, or whether I would have flown into conditions that may be dangerous, such as not being able to get back in to Bankstown.

As I neared the city, the sky was dark; the top of Centrepoint barely visible. I knew I had made the right decision. And with that, I stopped at the deli and bought half a kilo of French Brie. While I am alive to enjoy another day, the damn diet can wait...

Saturday, June 9, 2012

How to Feel Like a Celebrity

Recently, I was invited to Watts Bridge for their annual fly-in. Stuck as I am in the basin of Sydney, where very little happens in terms of av-events, I was strapped in and ready to go before you could say 'sausage sizzle'. Having spent the morning in the charming and educational company of the Caboolture Gliding Club - spinning and looping with instructor extraordinaire, Peter John - I was hyped up and ready to visit one of SE Queenland's favourite fly-ins.

As the guest of David Brown, vice president of the SAAA, I was honoured to be given the left hand seat of his RV10. A short flight from Caboolture in any aircraft, Watts Bridge seemed mere minutes away in David's Rocket Vehicle. Before I had time to fully acquaint myself with the glass, we were approaching the circuit at 160knots.

The one sure downside of flying in to an event is the audience - there to ensure you conduct the least elegant landing of your life. Luckily for me, David talked me through mine, as I am not fortunate enough to fly such a high powered aircraft, and with the combination of very little wind and a grass surface (oh so forgiving) the landing was fine. Which is just as well, because everybody was there.

As I drooled and dribbled (and other unladylike things) at the amazing array of aircraft, I was approached by a gentleman called Ron Ennis who asked me if I like to go for a fly in his Tiger Moth. And not just any old Tiger Moth, but the most immaculate example of a Tiger Moth I have ever seen. I donned the leather cap and headset before he could change his mind.

My work leads me to many, many interesting aircraft, but never in my life have I felt so special, so privileged, as I did in this beautiful deHavilland. As we taxiied to the runway, people waved, photographers clicked and mobile phones flashed - I felt like an Amelia, complete with goggles.

As we lined up, we received a call from two other Tiger Moths, wanting to take off and fly in formation with us. I caught the sight of our shadow on the ground; our trio of biplanes in formation. It was most breath-taking shadow I had seen since I was a child, catching my own on the wall one sunny afternoon, convincing myself I was, for a moment, tall.

We remained in formation for about ten mins, and I watched with delight as we danced around each other, sometimes seeming to fly backwards. After we pulled out of formation, Ron handed her over to me for a fly. Once you get used to the noise (and remember to keep your head out of the slip stream) they are such beautiful birds to fly (although Ron wasn't game enough to let me attempt to land her). My stinging nose was a sign to turn back to the airfield, where Ron took over. The landing was so soft I didn't even hear or feel the wheels touch the grass.

As we taxiied in, the crowd of wavers returned and I yearned for red lipstick and my leather flying boots. All I could do was wave, and smile and pretend that the perfect landing (and that perfect Tiger Moth) was all mine....

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Allowed in Cloud

I have always been the first to admit I am not a 'natural' pilot. I have no pilot blood - not one aviator, or even enthusiast in the family; no technical prowess - my eBay name is Technobimbo; and the only one non-pilot friend who could identify a carburettor grew up on a farm dissembling motorbikes for fun. Each one of my friends goes blank when I launch into the acronymese that is aviation and few show more than a passing interest in even taking to the skies in a single engine aircraft built in a time when their parents were still wearing flares.

Thus, a girl like me can only be considered as having been bitten by a strange and incurable bug - known as the av-bug. Symptoms: a gripping desire to sell your perfectly viable business to fund more flying, despite the possibility of the job in the industry being remote. Further symptoms: wishing your car had rudders; knowing the names of all the clouds, and in fact having an obsessive/compulsive relationship with the weather; preferring the smell of avgas to Chanel No 5.

As I was updating my logbook this morning, I realised I have been learning to fly for five years now. And although my start was rocky - institutionalising a few instructors and stalking out of poorly managed schools in disgust - I write this with 528 hours in my logbook. Although these are baby hours compared to a lot of my av-pals, to me they are blood-sweat-and-tears hours. Almost every one of the first 100 involved tears. Hour 152 involved champagne (after the event, of course - my PPL flight test) before the tears began again (trying to land a 182; a tail wheel endorsement; 7 CPL exams, which, for me was a total of twelve exams, due mostly to the dastardly aerodynamics paper and my inability to 'bond' with graphs). And so it goes: failing, trying again, passing, gaining confidence; taking on something new; failing - rinse and repeat, ad inf. Mostly, they are small steps, but every once in a while, the gradient changes and you are left looking at a step which reaches your chin. There are several of these such steps - first solo, first solo nav, tail wheel, first simulated Commerical flight and the one I am looking at now: the IREX.

Legend has it, the IREX is so hard it has made military pilots weep into their moustaches. The course is sixty hours, spread over ten weeks. For one exam.

I had been quietly ignoring it for years. "I don't need an instrument rating. Or, if I do, I shall just do a PIFR" (a PIFR being a rating available for private pilots which is perfectly good for my needs, really, and does not require sitting the IREX). But then, I spent the day with an IFR pilot....

Andrew's new G750 touch screen
Andrew Andersen is the new president of AOPA - aircraft owners and pilots association for those who don't speak semi fluent acronymese. Last week, he invited me to join him on a trip to Canberra in his 182, IFR (instrument flight rules).

My job has led me to some interesting and amazing experiences - Tiger Moths, powered parachutes, microlights, twins and warbirds - but never before have I had the right hand seat to an IFR flight. And although to an observer like me the workload appeared immense, all I could really see was the extra dimension of freedom a pilot gains. Now, admittedly, we had a stunning day with barely a cloud in the sky, so it was rather hard to imagine applying that level of concentration to flying through heavy rain and dark cloud. But I was fascinated by the ritual and rules of instrument flight - you are constantly talking to air traffic control, aware of your position and other traffic. The approaches, whilst frighteningly alien to me, seemed calmingly absolute - you do this, follow this pattern and and everyone knows what you're doing and how and exactly where you are. It seems so much safer than a cluster of VFR pilots, approaching willy nilly from various points.

The level of organisation required seemed frighteningly high - I was never one of those girls with a neat pencil case and a colour coded time table, but then flying HAS changed me. At least to the extent that I always have a plan. And a pencil.

Andrew pointed out that once you are organised, the flying itself is then very easy. As long as you stay ahead of the aircraft, setting up arrivals and approaches well in advance and thinking ahead in the case of changes to the plan, and being prepared (as there is a lot of paper) then, declared Andrew, flying is easier and safer to boot.

Canberra is a horrible airport - it's impossible to spot the runways because of the hills - but Andrew handled it with a plan and it appeared a lot less stressful than going in there VFR (which I admit I have never really done, as on my flight test I was given radar vectors because I couldn't find the runway!)

On the way home, we encountered some cloud (Yaay!) but as Andrew flew in, all my sense screamed "no!!! No! Not allowed in cloud! Turn around! Go back!" My heart was beating like a small animal's, and I had to tell myself over and over again that it is alright. I am not in control. It is Andrew's flight.

As I relaxed, I allowed myself a smile - my instincts were well trained, reacting as they did when we flew into cloud.

Inside the cloud, it was amazing - a totally new experience. Andrew warned of the danger of icing and the importance of knowing the freezing level. The seriousness of his tone made me take note. Here is the one place where pilots often come unstuck.

I was hooked. I knew this was something I would need to learn to do - the precision, the safety and the freedom to fly through cloud, through weather. Andrew had made it quite clear, in his actions as much as in anything he actually said, that instrument flight is rewarding, fulfilling and much much safer. But, as in all good things, with reward comes responsibility.

And an exam so hard it causes student pilots to wake in the night, screaming.

Here's to ten weeks of interrupted sleep....

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

In the Nick of Time

It was a dark cloud - the kind a pilot never, ever wants to be under; a dark a cloud of my own making. Not a scary, impenetrable cumulus, forcing me to land on a foreign strip, unprepared; rather a nagging, out of proportion, self induced cloud of despair. Created by me, over a year ago when I sat my last CPL exam, failed and never bothered to rebook.

The Marquis de CASA (distant relative of de Sade, but much, much crueller) decided, some time in the seventies when they planned their exam procedures, that the student of the seven CPL exams has three years in which they must pass all seven exams. In the seventies, when people had time. When they stopped to smell the roses, possessed one telephone between five people and still used typewriters. When Angry Birds, the BBC iPlayer and PPRuNe were in the space aged future. When three years would have felt like three years.

I can't believe a whole year had passed since I sat the last one.

I had passed six. Six in two years, three hundred and sixty three days. If you fail to pass all seven within the three year slot, you lose ALL seven exams and have to start at the beginning again, assuming of course you still possess the will to live.

The last exam - aerodynamics - had become a towering cumulus. Having already failed it three times, it mocked me now. Each failure had been a thumb in the nose: the pass mark is 70 and I repeatedly scored 68.

Five days before the exam, I started cramming. I practiced the test papers with obsessive compulsive verve. The coefficient of lift appeared in my dreams.

I told myself it didn't matter if I failed; that the CPL experience was just that - an experience, to learn more about the theory of aviation. That I never wanted to be a professional pilot anyway.

And then, on the morning of the exam, I had to pull over on the M5 to vomit in a service station toilet. I was convinced I knew nothing; that the coefficient of lift monster had stolen all my revision overnight. I contemplated not going in at all, staying on the M5 westbound, until maybe, days later, I would hole up in a country town, where I could change my identity and pretend I wasn't a sad failure of an exam every CPL student before me could pass.

At the exam centre, there was a delay. To prevent me from digging into the revision notes and replacing whatever had stuck with a jumble of nonsensical notes, I began talking to another student. Fessing up that this would be my last attempt,he looked horrified, exclaiming "I've heard of people like you, leaving the last exam til the last day, but I've never actually met one."

I felt like Rimmer in Red Dwarf, when attempting to take his astronavigatiom exam - he writes 'I am a fish' a hundred times and then passes out.

Finally, we went in. I greeted the adjudicator like a long lost friend (a year ago we saw each other so often, I believe I knew her star sign and favourite food). We went through the usual procedure and I pressed 'load exam'
After that, I remember nothing.

The only thing I did differently from the other three attempts, I did on the advice of an old hand flying
instructor: I wrote the questions down, and answered them with my own answer, before looking at the Marquis de Casa's choices and selecting one.

An hour and fifteen minutes later, I pressed submit. "Are you sure you want to submit?" it asked me. "No, actually, I don't. I want to be lying on a Balinese island, with a cocktail in my hand and a CPL pass mark in my logbook. Actually"

Sadly, that one wasn't multiple choice. I hit yes. Time stopped. Babies were born, people died, proposals were made and countries invaded. And then the screen went blank. A nano second later the result screen loaded (they use Pcs).

It said

You answered 32 out of forty questions correctly.
Your pass mark is 80%.
Well done, speccy, you earned this one.

I performed a little chair-jig and the adjucdicator gave me a sharp look. Printing out my KDRs, she smiled a bit and said "phew! That was close" while I boogied out of the room for the very last time ever.

Realising I have never wanted a full set of anything as much as these exams - not even the full Louis Viutton luggage set, or complete collection of Shirley Bassey albums - I gave thanks to the imaginary god of exams (St Swottus) and drove home.

Then I set fire to my revision notes and got very very drunk.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend

Munich airport is like the City of the Future; it's clean, efficient, modern and in fact, progressive. Why? Because it's there where I encountered the genius idea of The Sleeping Pod. For 15 Euros per hour, the weary traveller is invited to enter the sterile but o so welcome confines of the pod, to discover a bed - with linen - drinking water, controlled lighting and music, and an alarm system. Having set two alarms, I slept. Blissfully. Unaware that around me there were lives transpiring; people breaking up, travellers losing their luggage, families meeting for the first time in years...

At the boing of the alarm, I bolted out for my flight to Vienna. After five countries in two days, it was my final destination (for that night anyway). Tomorrow, I was to be the guest of Diamond aircraft, but tonight, I could sleep! First, I had to check in to my fabulous hotel, the Saroyen, where my room overlooked the Belvedere Palace. And then, to meet my cousin Jody for a schnitzel bigger than my head.

Vienna was exciting - stunningly beautiful and not nearly as expensive as Sydney. Jody and I went for the giant Weiner Schnitzel at an elegant old place on the Ringstrasse, the Austrian restaurant equivalent of Betty's tea rooms, where we had a fabulously camp waiter, whom Jody declared 'extremely un-Viennese'. Apparently, the waiters are nearly always rude and sullen in all Viennese restaurants, almost as a rite of passage. Unbelievably, people still smoke in Austrian restaurants; it's wierdly like going back in time. The portions, as everywhere I've been, are enormous, and I can't understand how they are not a nation of porkers (maybe it's all that smoking)...

At the Diamond factory, I was welcomed with a warm familiarity. Johan was delightful Liesel - the backbone of the company, and holder of a Pilot's Licence for over 50 years - was a glorious motherhen. Fritz, my pilot, who had ferried the DA42 I'd flown at Hawker to Sydney in six days, was a wonderfully sardonic man with an accent tones of the Dutch or Scandinavians, rather than Austrian (the type that sounds vaguely smutty and suggestive). I had an amazing flight over the snowy alps - the weather was cold and crisp - orbiting castles, and little railway stations perched on the top of mountains. In the late morning I was joined by Mr Takahashi-San, a very Japanese business man with a love of trains. The owner of aDA42, he invited me to Tokyo for a fly.

Upon our departure, Johan gave us gifts of wine, and Diamond related merchandise, and insisted on paying our cabs, as well as our lunch and numerous coffees and cakes. After bidding farewell to Takahashi San, and promising a visit to Tokyo, I headed to Wels on the super efficient bahnhof.

The Rotax day was exciting and exhausting - invited were over 300 guests from all over the world, including Paul Bertorelli - American aviation journalist extraordinaire. After the unveiling of their new injected engine, we toured the factory (for hours) in carefully organized small groups, passed from one section manager to the next with quartz like precision. I saw some fabulous examples of German control and organisation, and heard many times the expression "alles klar" prompting me to spin round expecting Herr Lipp and his band of young choir boys safely in his fist.

Here I met the marvelous Jonathan and Patricia from Medicine on the Move (www.medicineonthemove.org). That very day - the international day of women, apparently - it was announced that Patricia was the first female licensed Rotax mechanic. They were an amazing pair: Jonathon passionate and erudite; Patricia as beautiful as she is smart (and not to mention charming)...

The dinner was held in a Benedictine monastery, and Rotax had spared no expense. The food was fabulous, the drinks flowing (although I was very very good and had three glasses over five hours) and the entertainment quirky (an ex Miss Austria supermodel playing an electric violin to the sounds of digital euro trance). I sat next to the head of CASA for Slovenia (I have been granted a European flying Licence conversion any time) and a Rotax employee with a degree in psychology (he made me guess his degree and couldn't believe it when I got it first time). My small talk chip burnt out about 10.30 and I left with Jonathan and Patricia (with P being such a celeb, it took forty minutes to get from one end of the room to the other).

The very next morning, I departed for Venice from Wels by train. In Salzburg it's snowing and I'm whizzing past mountains and picture book 'willages' with wooden houses, all pointy roofs and window boxes, pine trees and little farms, filled with a strange homesickness, for this country of my mother (despite the fact I've only been here twice in my life). Even though I've only been here for a few days, I get the sense of the Austrians being an insular, strong headed people, not terribly inclined to 'ewolve' with the rest of the world. I suspect they may be A Nation of Taureans - comforted by food, mulled wine, slightly too warm rooms and the memories of times less pc....and that certainly strikes a chord with a me, the girl with one quarter Austrian blood....

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Over Many Seas in Many, Many Jets

Just before Christmas, I received a phone call from Wal at Rotax in Lilydale, inviting one Sport Pilot journalist to attend a new engine launch in March.

In Austria.

After battling it out with Mr Bigg - see photo - he decided I could go (something about a twenty four hour flight in economy for a two day trip not being all it's cracked up to be...) Before I'd even launched into the second verse of the Sound of Music, I had replied to the invite and had my ticket booked and confirmed. Rotax, near Wels, just north of Salzburg, would accommodate me (and several hundred others from the aviation industry) for the two nights over the junket. Around that, I decided to build a trip....

My daughter, Bird (13), was studying the Renaissance and so it seemed only fair she joined me, at least to visit Italy. And then, I have my cousin Jody in Vienna, and, ooooh, looky, an invite from Diamond to tour their factory in Wiener Neustadt. And, here's another from Pipistrel in Slovenia....

And so, drawing upon my Inner Austrian (my mother is from Villach) I made it happen. Bird would go to Cardiff for the work portion of the trip, and we would reconvene in Venice (with my best friend and her daughter) for the holiday portion of the trip.

The world laid out on an atlas seems titchy. When you're sitting on a fully booked-no-upgrades-available 777 for twenty four hours, it seems massive. What a ridiculous choice of aircraft to use on the longest possible distance across the earth. Rotax had booked me with BA, and I'd forgotten how dingy a carrier Birdseed is. Nonetheless, something about gift horses and mouths made me crack open a packet of Restavit, swill it down with a double Bloody Mary and attempt a semblance of sleep to blot out the hour upon hour in a rigid seat blocked in by a large Scottish lady over whom I had to vault for my two hourly visits to the loo. The only time I count my blessings for my short straw in the genetic height lottery is when I'm on a long haul flight...

At Singapore, I was a zombie, falling asleep on lounges and showing an unusual lack of interest in duty free shopping. Bird kept a vigil when I declared we should lie down for a bit, lest we missed the next fourteen hour portion of the flight. When we boarded for the second leg, the Restavit truly kicked in and I passed out for seven hours, only to be woken by Birdseed's sick idea of breakfast.

In the nick of time, when you declare you cannot take another minute of air conditioning, the smell of bowels and eggs combined and that irritating video detailing the distance to run, time at origin and OAT, the captain gives you a minute's voice time to tell you we're landing in twenty minutes, ahead of schedule in London where the weather is cloudy and three degrees.

It's a strange feeling returning to your country of origin - where you understand every nuance and dialect and custom - and not leaving the airport. As we landed at 04.10, whomever is in charge of employing customs officials obviously decided paying overtime to get more than two to process the morning's flights of four hundred plus people would be an indulgence. At six am, after queuing for an hour and forty minutes, eight officials arrived and processed the entire line in ten minutes. The customs official was suspicious of my length of stay and asked what kind of person would come all the way from Australia, not actually visit Britain and then dart around Europe for six days? One who grew up in Wales and would rather see Italy than the tired and familiar shores of Blighty, perhaps?

Having cleared customs to put Bird on the coach to Cardiff, we waited at the bus station for the national express, taking in the various accents and layers of clothing, with me trying to remember who declared the British a "Nation of Anorak Wearers"?.....and Bird declaring she'd never felt cold like it, and me repressing the parent-like comment of "cold? This is not cold. You don't know cold til you've grown up in a council house without central heating having to sleep in a bobble hat.."

Luckily, at that timely moment, the bus drew into the bay and the chirpy Welsh driver grabbed Bord's luggage, telling her to keep the ticket "by her" and whisked her away to Cardiff, leaving me free to find terminal five and my onward flight to Munich.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Perfect Passenger

A while back, to make up for my general slackness in getting involved in my daughter's school, I offered a flight over Sydney Harbour as a raffle prize at a school function. Many months passed, and eventually I heard from the winner, Katherine, who had purchased the ride for her son, Wesley.

As anyone living north of Victoria knows, La Nina has been dotty this year, with hot muggy days and long afternoon rains, followed by windy days, months of cloud and even more rain. All in all, pants weather for flying. So, it wasn't until last week that Wesley and his father Bob were free at the same time as myself and my trusty flying machine SFR. We agreed to meet at Bankstown, and, as it turned out, it was Ms Nina's rostered day off - for the second time this season.

I was expecting a child, of course, but young Wesley was in fact only seven. He was, however, the smartest, most well behaved seven year old I have ever, ever encountered. He asked only intelligent questions - some I truly had to think about before answering, others I really enjoyed, such as how lift is created, and why we put a cover over the pitot.

We had truly splendid weather - with an afternoon storm forecast, of course - but fine that morning, with the air as calm as a surgeon's hands. Young Wesley was interested in every process of the flight - the radio calls, the instrument panel, the headsets- but nothing was more delightful than his reaction on take off: he shrieked with delight and pointed out how everything was so small. I had indulged him (well, myself really) with a big "wheeeeee" on take off, in case he was nervous (and because it's how I do it when solo) and, refraining from a verse of Come Fly With Me, I continued on with my tour Pilot's job of pointing things out from the sky.

Although it was a splendid day, and the Harbour was busy, we received clearance to go straight into the harbour. Much to Wesley's delight there was a huge ocean liner at the quay. After a few orbits, we headed back to Bankie, just as the weather was showing signs of grumbling.

The circuit was busy, with everyone having the same idea of putting their wheels on the ground before the brewing storm. As we were on base, the wind had backed, and the tower called a downwind of five to seven knots with an option to go around and change directions. By the time the call was processed, I was established on final, and committed to the landing, which was a strange experience. Used to having the wind on my nose to slow me down, I usually make it off the runway opby the first or second exit. With a slight tailwind, I drifted until the fourth exit. But, as we all know, as the only thing a pilot is remembered for is their landing, I made it a good one.

And then I heard those joyous words from little Wesley, "how old do you have to be to learn to fly?" and I remembered why I get out of bed at daybreak to take 700kg of metal up into the sky. Blow me down, I think I might have inspired my first ever future pilot. I sang all the way home...

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sticky Flaps

And so, the time has come. Having blown every cent earned from the sale of the bookshop, and unable to hire my beloved Archer on a dep ed's wage, the search for a cheaper aircraft has inevitably commenced.

The Sharp Eyed Scotty, always on full alert for a bargain, spied an ad in Eddie's coffee shop and urged me to respond.

"Cessna 150 for private hire. $110 wet. Bankstown."

I phoned the owner Mat - a LAME for Aeromilpacific, which is exactly the occupation a hirer desires from an aircraft owner, and arranged a flight check. He suggested I fly with an instructor, rather than him, so I booked my fave fella, Conrado from Schoies.

Mr Sticky Flaps
So, on a yucky day, Conrado and I flew to the training area to give Cessna 150 HPU a whirl.

Now, I wasn't expecting fast and I wasn't expecting modern, but I can see I have become used to "luxury" aircraft after my time in SFR. That said, HPU is comfortable, and has more instruments than I get when I fly over at Recreational Aus. The ADF was of a type so old I had never seen it before (it had a tuning scale, like on an old transistor radio) but then, until recently I did have a policy of not flying in aircraft as old as myself. However, I cannot afford to be la-di-da, and thus decided to focus on the merits of the aircraft.

Truth be told, I've never much liked Cessnas. Fact is, though, they're the Toyotas of the aircraft industry; ubiquitous, cheap and, allegedly, as easy to fly as the Warrior. For me, the high wing is a pain to refuel, requiring a ladder, and the wearing of trousers and flat shoes. The Vernier throttle is anti intuitive and the high wing configuration seems to make the aircraft float for ever on landing.

I knew, though, it was time to get over such predujices. And so, as Conrado and I walked around the aircraft, I tried to appreciate the differences. Two doors! Better visibility! A rear window! Electric flaps!

On take off, she climbed quite well considering her titchy little engine; certainly no worse than a 150 hp old Warrior. And although her cruise was no more than 90 knots - and in a strong headwind you'd be flying backwards - she was comfortable and sedate (qualities I adore in an aircraft). We took her up for a stall, and she was polite and well behaved. We did a few steep turns to get me used to the different attitude of a high wing, and then pulled out the flap for a "dirty" stall and a little bit of slow flight.

Conrado and I have a bit of a history of inflight disasters, so I really oughtn't have been surprised when the flaps wouldn't retract. Last time we flew together we couldn't lower the undercarriage, and the time before that we had a radio failure. So when the flaps simply wouldn't go up, we just grinned. "They'll go in a minute. We'll give it another go"

Nopes. Nothing. Well and truly stuck.

Being closer to Camden than Bankstown, we decided to land and get them looked at by a LAME. It took us 25 mins to get to Camden at 42 knots! I alerted the tower to our predicament, and he gave us a straight in. The final approach seemed to go on for ever, as Conrado said, "don't get too high, we have absolute no chance of a go around. We have to get it down first time"

Luckily, Camden has at least 1400m of runway, so I was pretty confident we'd have no trouble landing. As we exited the runway, the tower remarked it was the longest time ever from the reporting point to the threshold. As we taxied to the maintenance hangar, Conrado tried the flaps one more time, and 'zip' up they came.

Damn Cessnas! Nonetheless, I'll be back for more, no doubt about it....

Saturday, February 11, 2012

And, as all good things do, it came to an end. In the wettest summer since last summer, Robbs and I had bagged ourselves a blissful week of weather (note to self: fly with Christians; they always seem to have great weather god credit)

After tying up SFR, and pondering on how soon I could afford to book her again, I mused on how lucky I am to get out and about as much as I do with pilots of experience, such as Robbs (who says things like, "why don't you get Brisbane centre to give you radar vectors back to Bankstown?" and other such big-thinking American things).

While having a post flight coffee and full fat coke at Eddie's, Robb's spied a notice advertising a C150 for private hire, at $110 wet, and all of a sudden the possibility of my next adventure began to emerge...
With the forecast predicted to be in excess of thirty eight degrees,evenRobbs and I agreed to an early start. Turned out it was just as well: we'd agreed to go inland - even Robbie was getting tired of miles and miles of glorious pristine coastland - having decided to look at th mountains instead, for a change.

The burbly certainly picked up by lunchtime, with a rather 'brown trousers' crosswind at Armidale, prompting a discussion on which technique was best for crosswind landings (I having been taught the use two stages come in a bit faster technique, against Robbie's more practical hang out all your flap to pin you to the ground technique, which is the one I hear after adopt, in an Archer at least). After a blustery, but safe, landing, with the world's slowest base leg, we tied down, and decided to wait it out, with the possibility of remaining overnight on the back burner.

After blowing into the flying school (literally) we met the lovely and inspirational Marion -, flight instructor, Bonanza owner, corporate jet pilot and all round sweetheart. She gave us a lift into town, picked us up again two hours later and drove us to a motel - all the while filling us in with her exciting life story. Having not taken up flying until her forties, she was the perfect inspiration I needed to remind me to finish my CPL.

Armidale's a gorgeous town - and Marion runs a thriving little school, where it took only minutes to realize how many people we had in common - and thus, we committed to spending the night. Opposite the motel was an RSL - a must for any overseas visitor - where Robbs and I had our last meal of the trip. Throughout our dinner, the wind continued to howl, allowing us that lovely smug moment all pilots adore - when the weather confirms you made the right decision: to stay on the ground.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Day Four

After a bottle of wine the night before, and some pink fizzy stuff for Robbs, we declared it a rest day.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Day Three

 Aha! I get to utter the sentence I loathe most in magazine submissions:

"after a hearty breakfast with mine hosts, Arthur and Marie-Laure, we set off to the airport under blue skies"

Actually, first the gorgeous Marie-Laure gave us a short tour of Brissy, showing us its oft-ignored splendid side. Poor Brissy (aka BrisVegas due to its proximity to the Gold Coast) gets a terrible rep as an ugly city, but I think its rather wonderful; always have. ML took us to the lookout, and from atop we saw a fairly dense city (population around 1.7m, I think), set on a river. The coastline is white beaches as far as one can see. It's not that Brissy is an ugly city; it isn't. It's just that it has to compete with Sydney, Melbourne and Perth (oh, and Adelaide, of course.) So for fun, I turned our major cities into girls, to see if I could make sense of them. Apologies for the departure from av-talk, but here's what I found:

Sydney is a glossy blonde - tall, slim, ambitious and well dressed
Melbourne is an arty brunette - curvy, funky clothes, black glasses, works in publishing
Brissy is a brassy blonde - slightly orange tan but a good ole traditional gal at heart
Adelaide - a frizzy redhead with slightly wonky teeth and glasses, mismatched clothes
Perth - a capable mousy brunette with sensible shoes
Hobart - the single, unmarried cousin made to sit at the children's table at weddings.

And now, it was time to leave Brassy Blonde's turf - where she has many civilized friends, and jazz clubs - and head up to her pretty, but slightly chavvy sister's territory - Maroochydore. Of course, the Sunshine coast has perhaps some of the most striking coastline on the east - it houses Noosa, playground of the cities' polo shirt/khaki short wearers, with some of the best restaurants in the country - and miles and miles of gorgeous beaches, dotted with holiday towns and, sometimes, palm trees.

As the day was forecast to be 35 degrees, we were airborne early - nothing worst than a portly man and a slightly chubby gal in a tin can in the midday heat. On the ground at Archie, in their fab deco terminal, I had a chance to discuss the departure with a flying school instructor. He told me I had no chance of clearance from the ground to depart over Brissy, so I decided to take the scenic VFR route, via Stradbroke island. It was gorgeous, but has a 12 miles stretch over water at 3500 ft, inspiring us to call ATC and ask for 5500, which we got.

The landing at Maroochy was peachy (although it was a little difficult to see the active runway, they did ask us which one we wanted) and already thirty two degrees. We tied down, and whilst Robbs visited some pals at Blue Tongue Helicopters, I went to hire a car.

In attempting to cross the ramp, I got told off by security, and told I had to go through the gate and round the back of the terminal. As I was wearing my ASIC ($182 of red plastic that I intend to get the USE out of, dammit) I claimed the same right as the airline pilot, who gets to cross the tarmac. Sheesh, flying a titchy little single engine aircraft surely doesn't make me a second class pilot, does it? Turns out it does.

I realised I was hot and grumpy and my coffee-o-meter was low. I hired a car, and declared tomorrow a dedicated no flying day. We then found an apartment overlooking the beach at Maloolaaba (or thereabouts), went for a swim in the 25 degree sea, and cracked open a bottle of wine.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Day Two (cont'd)

Day Two (cont'd)

After alighting the glider and gulping a whole can of full fat coke, I began to think of our departure. The wind was still from the north east, and mostly down the strip, but had certainly picked up (the sock was still at a key party). Mr Bigg started to look worried. Mimi weighs under 300kgs and the upwind leg of the strip contained a stretch of trees that screamed turbulence. He suggested I go first, as the guinea pig. Even though I was flying an aircraft at twice the weight and almost double the horsepower, I was still trepidacious, having experienced strips like these in late arvo on my Biggus Trippus. With too large a tailwind to take the other side, it just had to be suffered. And suffered it was. I began with a short field take off, with the intention of gaining plenty of height to clear the worst of the burbly, but it just wasn't enough. You'd've needed a chopper to get out without aerial breakdancing.

Reader, I swore. With a Christian passenger on board, I took the name of his saviour and combined it with words rhyming with 'cluck' 'pit' and 'farce'. No pilot likes turbulence so close to the ground, but nonetheless, I am ashamed of myself. Imagine passing seven exams, a knowledge deficiency test and countless practice forced landings only to fail your Commercial Pilot's test for having potty mouth. It's a far worse habit than approaching too high, flaring too early or taxing on the brakes....

After finding still air - and apologising to Robbs, who took it pretty well, considering - we made tracks for Archerfield. We were cleared to transit the Gold Coast at 1500 ft, which out us at the height of some of the buildings! Apart from being unable to find the VFR point (Target, on top of a shopping centre - the award winner for most stupid inbound point, given the visible landmarks in the area) the approach and landing were uneventful. Apart from my surprise at the runway being grass, which turned to delight on landing as the grass is always more 'forgiving', everything was fairly straightforward.

At Archerfield we were to be met by one of Sport Pilot's most faithful contributors, Arthur Marcel. Arthur had kindly offered to put us up for the night and take us dancing. We'd arranged to meet at four, and it was only later I remembered there is a time difference of an hour.

Arthur is a keen and passionate dancer, as well as a pilot and owner of a Sapphire (single seater in the RA category). He and his gorgeous wife took us to the Brisbane Jazz Club, on the river, right in the city. There, a big band played, people swung (as in swing dancing) and poor Arthur tried to pretend he was not pushing a plank of wood across the floor when I danced with him. Under endowed in the co-ordination department is an understatement! I had warned him I couldn't dance, and he had the decency not to look too appalled, but I had to drink two G&Ts before I was game to try again. Nonetheless, it was a fab night. In one day I'd experienced gliding, profane turbulence and twirling....

Friday, January 13, 2012

Day Two

I glid, I did...

Today promised a new experience - motor gliding.

A month or so ago, I received a letter at Sport Pilot in response to an article I wrote about an engine-off as part of my flight test. I called it something like a 'brown trousers moment' and the CFI of The Byron Gliding Club was inspired to write to me, suggesting all students should first glide in order to familiarize themselves with engine off (or, engine absent!) ops. Immediately, I wrote back suggesting he show me. And straight away, he responded, saying 'sure! Come glide with me!'

The man is the legend, Norm Sanders - he has a entire Wiki page devoted to him, and is surely the finest glide teacher in the land. I was quite bubbly with excitement and nerves.

But first, I had to get there. The flight from Ballina to Tyagarah (which I nicknamed Viagra - the hardest strip in NSW) is only fifteen minutes, inspiring Mr Bigg to follow us in Mimi. We refuelled and took off (remembering the right hand circuits) to look for the aerodrome, of which Norm had kindly sent a photo. Sure enough, fifteen minutes later, we spied the 1000m grass strip. I was relieved and delighted to see the wind favouring 05, allowing me to approach on the non tree side facing out to the sea. The landing was peachy, the wind being only about six or so knots. Greeted immediately by Norm and his dog, we were then taken to the club to meet the other glider pilots. It was decided I would join the Glider Federation and have a full, hands on lesson. Mr Bigg landed in Mimi and settled down to watch me receive my punishment for showing him up at his home strip.

I was strangely nervous, but Norm was fabulous in putting me at my ease, explaining each facet of the strange looking flying machine with the extraordinary wings.

"Now, I know you can already fly, but this is something a little bit different. It's not just about pressing buttons, and sometimes GA pilots take a little time to unlearn some of their training that's not necessary useful for gliding. Some people think gliding is a step down, but it is in fact quite a different skill. Sully, of the Hudson river incident, credits that landing to his training as a glider pilot, you know."

The first massive difference - apart from the size of the wings, the canopy, and the strange wheel on the low-lying fuselage - was the fact that the stick is operated with the right hand, leaving the left hand free for the airbrakes. It took me ages to undo the habit of holding the stick with the left. The cockpit panel was mostly the same, except for the "liftometer" (not the correct name; I can't remember what Norm called it) which is kinda like a VSI.

Norm started the motor (a Jabiru engine) and taxied out to the strip where we took off in what felt like 50m. We climbed to 2000ft, and Norm demonstrated the characteristics of the powered glider. The first thing that struck me was how much rudder input was necessary; we turned on the rudders alone and noticed that a left hand turn saw a nose drop and a right a nose climb. Norm then demonstrated a stall, which was so sedate it was barely noticeable. Ditto the climbing stall (the most dangerous and likely stall for a glider pilot) - again a very polite little shudder. And then, Norm turned off the engine.

"let's glide!" he beamed.

Turning off the engine is a slow process, bringing back the power little by little and checking the cylinder head temp until the numbers are suitable. And then - total silence, apart from maybe the sound of my beating heart, and throbbing veins. Funnily enough, once I realised we weren't going to plummet to the earth (yes, yes, I knew we weren't; I know it's not only the engine keeping us aloft; I can see I have allowed myself to become "engine dependent") I soon got used to it. There'd be moments where I suddenly say 'no engine!' and Norm would beam. Only when we flew quite low over the ridges, to ride 'ridge lift' did I feel a little freaked. But once again, I chilled and dug the feeling. It really is quite awesome. Until of course your instructor turns to you and says,
"boy, the wind has really picked up. Brace yourself for a rough landing"

A GA pilot always, always, has a go around in his/her back pocket. With gliding, there are no second goes. Admittedly, we had an engine, and it could have been powered up if absolutely necessary, but the Byron Gliding Club have a 'no engine landings' policy, feeling that engine landings are not in the spirit of gliding. I rather got the impression that turning on the engine for landing would be the social equivalent of bursting into a Mariah Carey tune, or scratching your armpit at the table, or perhaps admitting you'd voted for Howard.

Towards the ground it was bumpy. The sock was swinging like a suburban couple as we joined a close downwind. Norm never let the strip out of his sight, and remained high saying, "with height and speed, you have a full bank account. As you get slower and lower you start to withdraw from that account. The only time that account is to be empty is when you're on the ground, tied down"

As we neared the strip, on short final, Norm pulled the airbrakes and hung out all the washing. The drag was phenomenal. By now it was so bumpy Norm was dancing on the rudders. Unlike me on such landings, he was neither swearing nor drenched in sweat. It sure looked like he was working hard, but he certainly didn't seem phased. The ground roll was much smoother than I had expected, and as we taxiied back to the club he just said,

"phew! Quite a crosswind"

Norm Sanders
I was charmed by his humility; had I taken a crosswind like that, I would have been yelling "whoooop! I am the crosswind queen!". But, of course, I am still a Baby Pilot, and a bit of a prat at the best of times, whereas Norm (it turns out, unbelievably) is almost eighty, and a man of wisdom and dignity.

As we alighted the glider, Norm commented I'd taken to it "like tape to a duct" and wished I could have tried a few landings on my own (gah!). I'd already decided I'd like to try again. And again. And maybe again. All my (Australian) life, I'd watched surfers and wondered what was so magical about waves that would motivate people to get up with the lark, don an unflattering rubber outfit and plunge themselves into a cold sea. I think perhaps for them, it's the very same buzz as catching a thermal, or riding ridge lift, or managing a cross wind landing without power. Except, apart from the sweating, we get to stay completely dry.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

 Day One (cont'd)

Note to Self: Beware of Complacency

An hour or so later we were in Ballina, but not before I'd made a stupid and potentially dangerous stuff up. I'd heard the five hundred hour mark was the point where pilots become complacent; I just didn't think it would apply to me. I'd failed to check the circuit direction in the ERSA, and assumed left hand circuits. It was right hand. As I joined a left downwind, another aircraft joined right (rightly). Luckily, a third aircraft had heard my joining call and informed the war bird in the right place of my position. I hopped on the radio to apologise and rectify, and it turned out he was one of those rare gentlemen aviators, who said, "you go ahead. I'll go in after"

Well, with all that talking, I was a bit high (in terms of height, and airheadedness). I landed half way down the runway (and it's nearly 2km at Ballina) and rolled through to take the exit at the end only to discover there IS no exit at the end. I had to backtrack, causing the Gentleman Aviator to go around.

And then, face burning with shame, I see my editor, Mr Bigg, waiting for me at the taxiway. Ballina is his home aerodrome. Of all the aerodromes in this immense country, why did I have to stuff up at his??

After shutting down (and almost breaking down in tears!) I located the Gentleman Aviator to apologise. He was as gallant on the ground as in the sky, and even mentioned he'd enjoyed reading my column.

Luckily, Mr Bigg is a forgiving kinda guy and soon all was forgotten as he'd promised to take me for a spin in his Mimi, a Atec Zephyr.

Ahhh, what a lovely aircraft! Smooth, gentle, low wing, t-tailed and sporty looking, she was a joy to fly. A polite, but not timid, little bird. I could have stayed up for hours, flying around the gorgeous Byron coast line, but once again the wind was picking up, and the time was approaching wine o'clock. So we joined the (right hand) circuit and came in to land. Mimi is so light, but yet so well behaved, Mr Bigg danced her onto the runway, tied her down and led me (and Robbs, and Mr Bigg's son - Little Bigg) to the pub for a steak and a wine.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Five day trip with a Scotty

Day One

At last the weather is gorgeous and I have my very favourite flying chariot booked for a whole week.
My friend Robbs, with whom I travelled the States in a Grumman Tiger two years ago, is accompanying me on a trip up the coast. What started as a holiday has quickly morphed into work - with offers to fly all sorts of aircraft.

First stop Taree where we visited Ole Hartman's Australian Aircraft Kits factory (http://www.aircraftkits.com.au/). Ole custom makes every single aircraft in his workshop in Taree, aided by Brian, a former employee of deHavilland. Ole builds only all metal aircraft - the Rivet Ranger of Taree - mostly for the bush/outback market. I'd flown up to meet Bruce Scott - a truck drivin, pipe smokin cowboy - who'd ordered and assisted in the build of his very own Hornet. Today, Ole would take me flying in it.

After a tour of the factory, a cuppa and a yarn, I was introduced to Bruce's gal - the Hornet. She's a beaut - yellow, sturdy and very much the insect to look at, and, just like a hornet, she has a tail. Only this one has a wheel on it. Flashbacks of my tail wheel endorsement experiences - my taxiing like the product of a cut snake mating with a shopping trolley - ran through my mind, until I looked up and saw the calm Germanic face of Ole, who assured me he'd take the taxi (as the wind was picking up). Phew.

The Hornet is very comfy, and the massive Tundra tyres make entry easier. The first thing that amazed me was the forward visibility upon taxi. I've had to taxi tailwheels by looking out of the side window, but this had been taken into account by Ole who'd created in the Hornet an aircraft in which you could actually see over the nose on the ground!

Ole took the take off, thankfully (that wind really had picked up) and then handed over the controls. I was surprised at the low nose attitude in flight, and then very surprised by the aircraft's sedate nature. Bruce, a relatively low hour pilot with a trike background, requested a polite aircraft which would not lead him into any trouble. Ole delivered just that. With a 100hp Rotax, she's no slug, but is extremely well behaved and stable, just like a good woman should be.

Even more thankfully, Ole took the landing, as the wind was blowing right across the strip and the shear was shaking us around like milk. Ole didn't even frown, never mind break sweat or swear, as I do on a crosswind landing. He merely landed her long, to avoid the burbly from the hangars half way down the strip, and then pulled up neatly. No sweat at all.

On the ground Bruce was grinning as if his sweetheart had returned from a long holiday. I thanked him for letting me loose in his baby, and gushed over her sweet nature.

The wind had picked up enough to have me frowning, so Robbs and I made a swift refuelling and departed for Ballina.