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


Friday, June 21, 2013

Extra Extra, Read All About It!

In the last six months, I have flown on the wing of a vintage Stearman, traversed three states in a PC12, spun loops in a Pitts Special and hopped in and out of Bonanzas in the manner of a very happy aviation bunny. I've almost got to the point of thinking, "how can I top this?" after every single flight. As my av-demands get greater and greater with each experience, I wonder, each time, what great machine could possibly be next.

Imagine my delight, then, when I was approached by an old acquaintance from my student days, who told me he was now the proud owner of an Extra 330LX.

Extra 330LX (images, Will Spiers)

Graeme Sussmilch was finishing his instructor rating when we met at Curtis Aviation in 2009. Now he's the owner and operator of this magnificent machine, one of only two in the whole country. The 330LX will be the highest performance aircraft I've ever experienced. By far.

With a rate of climb of 3200 feet per minute and a cruise of 180 knots, it's as fast and bitey as it is beautiful. Graeme, a gentle mild-mannered person, seems an unlikely owner for such a Ferrari of the Skies - until you talk to him about his love of aerobatics.
"In March of 2000, I joined Japan Airlines, based in Honolulu, Hawaii," he tells me. "It is here I that I learnt to really enjoy flying aerobatics. On one of my days off, I went for a joy flight with Clint Churchill in his Extra 300L. At that point, I had only seen an Extra 300 in magazines. I still remember the first flight with Clint and the part that got me hooked on aerobatics. It was when he did a torque roll and while the Extra was hanging on its prop at full power, condensation was coming off the tips of the propeller and flowing backwards, this is when I knew I wanted to fly like this.

Graeme Sussmilch
I asked Clint if he would teach me to fly the way he flies, so on my days off from flying with Japan Airlines, I was learning to fly aerobatics."

As we walked around the beautifully polished aircraft, Graeme showed me the additional features he added to the Extra, including a splendid red paint job, and a balance ball in the passenger side.

"Clint taught me that this is the most important instrument in terms of passenger comfort," he explains. "Keep the ball in the middle, and you'll make the flight a lot more enjoyable for your passenger. In over a hundred hours in the Extra, I've never yet made a passenger ill"

Relieved to hear it, we finish the walk around, with Graeme explaining we will be wearing a parachute for this flight. Suddenly, I feel queasy; if bailing out of an airborne aircraft is a possibility, I find myself reluctant to go. I say as much, as calmly as I can, and Graeme reassures me it's merely a gimmick. As parachutes are required for aerobatics over 60 degrees angle of bank in the USA, Graeme feels the experience is more authentic for the passenger here, when they don the chute. He promises me we will not have to bail.

Reassured, we commence the complicated procedure of strapping in. I must say, the aircraft is totally pristine, and the seat reclines in the sportiest position I've ever seen; I really really feel as if I'm in a racing car. When I'm fully bonded to the aircraft, I actually feel as though I'm wearing it. Graeme flies from the back, and so I'm in the front, but unable to see over the canopy, which is a common feature in tailwheels (and a common occurrence for me anyway, being under-endowed in the height department).

As Graeme starts her up, she purrs into life and we begin the zig zag taxi that is characteristic of tailies. The Extra 330LX weighs only 645kg empty, but has a whopping 315hp. I don't have to have experienced it to know it will be a case of 'hold onto your headsets'. 

And I'm not wrong. No sooner are we cleared for take off than we're vertical. By the time we turn crosswind, we're already at 3,000ft and Graeme hands her over to me. Generously. This is, without a doubt, the most responsive aircraft I've ever laid my hamfist hands on. I barely touch her and she climbs! She is begging to be spun, and Graeme takes over to show me what she can do. Sadly, I'm not fluent in aerobatic terminology, but I am certain we performed a Lazy 8, a barrel roll, a series of loops and an Immelmann. There were certainly some snap rolls (which I loved) and some inverted flight. All I can say was that each manoeuvre was smooth, and none were like the soggy cucumbers I used to fly when I was practising loops in the Citabria.

Next, we flew along the ravines, as Graeme demonstrated her turning capacity (sharp and fast) before heading back to the strip for some knife-edge passes for the photographer. Suddenly, every man and his headset decided to join the circuit, and the tower denied our request for the grass runway, where photographer Will Spiers was waiting with his giant lens. A Citation called inbound, and we were made to orbit until he landed, before joining for 10.

After seven passes, in a very busy traffic pattern, we decided to call it quits and come in to land (mostly because we were causing av-envy in the other pilots). Graeme's landing was so awesome, I applauded. It was a beautifully calm day, and his flying was so sleek, and his aircraft so magnificent, I could feel a day-long adrenaline high coming on.

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