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


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....