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


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Life's a Beech

I have never made a secret of the fact that I am a Bonanza stalker. Despite being Bonanza-less myself, I have flown in many, and recently - at Avalon - became a member of the Australian Bonanza Society. Imagine my delight, then, when I was invited by the ABS to join their Bonanza Pilot Proficiency Program at Cowra, NSW. The program offers three whole days of Beech talk, of flying, of socialising and of (in my case) learning.

A few years ago, when I was writing my first stalk-piece on the Bonanza - a history of this magnificent aircraft - David Young of the ABS was kind enough to organise flights in an A36, G36 and Model 35 V-tail. Whilst shocking weather prevented some of these flights from occurring, I did spend a wonderful day exploring these immaculate aircraft, talking to their owners and catching the bug that will certainly prevent me from ever owning an expensive designer handbag. As a consequence of this fledging love affair with the Bonanza - which possibly began with my training in a Beech Skipper, the first aircraft I ever soloed in, followed by my first ever free flight, in A36 IOL - I have remained in touch with David Young. With a benevolence well beyond the call of duty, David offered to pick me up in his new G36 and fly me to Cowra for the event (to save me the indignity of having to turn up in an Archer).

David Young's G36 (and a very excited me)

David has recently upgraded his A36 to a G36, and I was extremely excited to see it, and what a magnificent machine she is; and what a privilege to be a passenger! We departed Bankstown IFR and flew - to my great excitement - through cloud before hitting some fairly turbulent weather approaching Cowra that held talk of storms from the south. But, turbulence schmurbulence; the super-sturdy Beech barely rocked. Used as I am to being churned around in the burbly, I was astonished to hear the wind at Cowra was 25G30, which was confirmed by the sock on landing, as we flew a stable, steady approach, whereupon David greased the wheels on to the runway as if there was a light breeze. The G36 is heavier than anything I've ever flown, and I was instantly envious of its stability.

Whilst David was tying down, I was greeted by A36 flier, Bevan Anderson from Avplan, who'd arrived in PMP. With hired buses organised for the entire weekend - the first sign of an extremely well organised event - I hopped a ride to my hotel and freshened up for the evening's barbecue.

As I arrived, I recognised a few faces (and failed to recognise others because of my annoying condition - prosopagnosia - or face blindness - which is such a hazard in my job) I purchased a white from the bar and revelled in my favourite kind of talk - hangar talk. All writers love people's stories, and I'm no exception - I could seriously stand all night listening to why people chose their aircraft, and where they've been in them, and what they've learned as pilots. As you can imagine, events like this for me are heaven. How delightful it was, then, to have a surprise talk given by recent PC12 owner, Simon Hackett. You'd think PC12 ownership would be an incredible enough story in itself, but I went on to learn that Simon has gone, in a very short space of time, from flying gliders, to owning a Cirrus, to taking delivery of TCP, his PC12, in Switzerland and flying it back home to Adelaide. His story was so awe inspiring, I approached him immediately for an interview (watch this space)...

The next morning, I received an early text from David, inviting me along on his morning's proficiency flight with Lyn Gray. I am unable to detail the flight, and a great deal of the program here, because I will be writing at length about the BPPP in the next issue of Australian Pilot. Suffice to say, I learned a huge deal, sitting in the back of the G36 (club seating, you know!)

Bonanza for Breakfast

The real learning, however, was in Thomas Turner's seminar the next day. Even with my rather sore head after an enthusiastic night's drinking with a new friend in Cowra, Thomas' teaching was crystal clear. As someone who has struggled with fully understanding all the facets of aircraft performance for years, Thomas' practical approach 'think of every flight as a utility and then identify which you want to utilise for this flight' made so much sense to me. I made pages and pages of notes, which, after nearly a week, still make sense. It takes skill and talent to impart knowledge (and goodness knows, I've met enough duff teachers) and Thomas has the knack, as well as the passion and the humility, necessary to teach to a group of over 30 people. Again, I simply had to ask him if he would permit my reprinting of his marvellous 'Mastery Flight Training' columns (which I have been reading for two years) to which he generously agreed. Again, watch this space.

The evening dinner was equally as eventful, with my seating next to the most fabulous gentleman (whom I'd inadvertently met at Watt's Bridge). An Earthrounder, he flew solo around the world in a V Tail, just for fun, barely stopping on the way. Another gent, to my left, had brought two G36s back from the States and offered me the story for the mag (more watching of space..) And then, the fabulous Matt Hall gave an entertaining, awesome and yet humble speech, with a focus on owning up to our mistakes. Of all people, Matt's career has certainly been the most glamorous, most documented, most celebrity-like career in the industry, and thus it was doubly inspiring to see such humility and honesty from a man who is so admired, and such a prominent role model.

With the amazing (and humble) Matt Hall

The next afternoon, David and I departed for our return to reality. As I said thank you to the two Peters, and goodbye to everybody, I once again was reminded of how lucky I am. I may not (yet) own a Bonanza, but I get to spend weekends with amazing people who are prepared to share the love and knowledge of theirs.

As I have mentioned in a previous post, the Bonanza is out of my league in the same way as George Clooney is out of my league; with one small plus side: the older I get, the MORE likely Bonanza ownership is for me, whereas the chances of dinner with the silver fox will diminish exponentially as the years become less forgiving. With that plus in mind, I have let it be known to any pilot who will listen, that I WILL own a Bonanza in the future (in case someone would like to leave one in their will; or perhaps, hire one to me...) For now, it's back to drooling over the Aviation Trader, and making a plan to write that best-selling book...

Monday, March 11, 2013

Walking in the Air

At first, I thought it was a joke.

I was sitting in Breitling’s marketing agency, discussing a potential interview with the Breitling Wingwalking team, when managing director Jo Butler said, “Would you try it?”

“Hell, yeah” was my impetuous response, followed by the thought, “they’d never let a slightly chubby middle aged editor walk on a wing!”

Turns out I was wrong.

A week later, I received an email from Jo, confirming the interview and my wing walk.

Although I knew, in my heart of hearts, I would go through with it – ‘never let fear stand in the way of a good story’ is as good a motto as any – in the weeks leading up to the walk, I would be seized by moments of sheer panic. I’m petrified of heights, and, like a lot of pilots, prefer to be in control of the aircraft, rather than strapped on top of it.

My aviation friends reactions were divided between those who would do it in a heartbeat (namely those same friends who regularly jump out of moving aircraft) and those who believe a pilot should always remain firmly inside the aircraft (the instructors and airlines pilots, mostly). Both of my non-aviation friends declared me crazy.

As the day approached, I was sent images by text of the young and svelte Lara Bingle, wingwalking over Sydney, with the message,

“soon to be YOU.” Suddenly, my worries were compounded by the thought that I, too, would be made to wear lycra.

On the morning of the flight, I was sick with nerves. I was reminded of my first ever solo, and my last ever CPL exam, and the time I had to wait hours for the NRMA in a scary suburb of Sydney, all rolled into one.

At the AOPA office, I was greeted by the ever-calm Kylie – the shoot’s photographer – and told, “it’ll be just like going on a fairground ride. In ten minutes, it will be over, and you’ll be forever grateful and proud that you did it.”

photos by Kylie Lovell
After interviewing the pilot, David (who promised to be gentle) and the chief wingwalker, Sarah, I was helped into my sky shroud (no lycra for me!) and taken out to the aircraft. Suddenly, my inner aviatrix leapt out; I found myself in complete and absolute awe, feasting my eyes upon a perfectly maintained Boeing Stearman. Instantly, I realised it would be an almighty privilege to stand upon the wing of this splendid, iconic aircraft. I saw at once I was a very lucky journalist, about to do something I would relish for the rest of my life.

Sadly, the dreamy thoughts were crushed by the indignity suffered by having to actually climb onto the wing. I have long documented my under endowment in the coordination department; this time it was compounded, to the power of ten, by having nimble Stearman sprite Freya virtually fly up the fuselage in front of me. I followed her with all the grace of a potato.

As Freya guided me to the rig - and commenced the strapping in, the safety harness briefing, the placement of earplugs and goggles - I was overcome with a feeling of contentment. All of a sudden, it felt so right to be here, standing on the wing of a Boeing Stearman at my home aerodrome, being cheered on by a crowd of well wishers. I felt invincible, brave and very, very tall.

As Kylie gave me the thumbs up, David started the engine, and we began the fabulously graceful taxi. The sock was completely flaccid and I was in my absolute element, waving to all and sundry. I felt rather like I was wearing the Stearman! We arrived at the run-up bay, and I heard the engine run up, and then we waited and waited. Just as I started to fret there was something amiss, and we would be forced to return to the hangar, we taxied to the holding point. Within seconds we were lining up, then rolling (with me in full-Titanic-arms-splayed position) then taking off into a wind so strong I can only describe it as a force.

It was hard, and cold and frightfully noisy, pinning me to the rig, trying to rip off my goggles and attempting to suck the saliva out of my mouth (“time to close my mouth,” I remember thinking). As we turned crosswind at 500ft, I saw the city in front of me, and forgot about the force entirely. Sarah was right in saying the force pins you down so firmly, it gives a feeling of security. I found my equilibrium and my whole body was soaring with the feeling of flight; I was as close to genuine flight as I had ever been. I felt as happy as I could ever remember being, with Condell Park below me, and the city now off to my right; a feeling of absolute freedom overwhelmed me, and I had to remind myself that I was strapped to a rig on top of a biplane, and about to come in to land.

The turn onto base was steeper than the crosswind turn, but I found myself thinking, “bank more sharply! Barrel roll! Let’s do aerobatics!” for which, of course, I can blame that ole chestnut, adrenaline.

Slowly, we were descending, and as the runway became closer and closer, I braced myself for the bump. The bump never came; I didn’t feel the wheels touch the strip, there was merely a cessation of forces, an absence of howling and no more wobbling of cheeks. My only thought, as we rolled out to exit the runway, was ‘again! Go around! Do it again!”

I have no memory of the taxi back to the hangar; being so high on adrenaline and full of excitement seems to have erased the memory of dismounting of wing, too.

Later, on the ground, I remember someone mentioning that more people have been up in space than have walked on a wing. The journalist inside me said, “you’d better check that fact” but the aerial adventurist overrode the fact-checker for once, and revelled in having done something so very special.

All day, I was filled with a feeling of awe and wonder; a sheer delight at what had taken place. In fact, even now, writing this, I am stunned that I did something so brave and incredible. And, I get to call it ‘work’.