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


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.