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


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Yankee Life for Me

...Sedona was nothing short of fabulous.

The whole town is orange with the glow of the mountains, and nestled in every nook and cranny is an arty little shop. Kevin, a man of Christian faith, drove me up a mountain to see the most magnificent and unusual church. It was truly mind blowing to see, and perched up there on a mountain peak, looking down into a canyon, I momentarily wished I felt faith in something greater than the mere random hotpotch that I consider life to be.  

We lunched at The Hideaway, an Italian cafe overlooking the canyons, where once more I became overwhelmed by the choice available in American restaurants - fourteen different salad dressings; twelve different sodas!

Having rented the car for only two hours, we headed back to Sedona airport - and the cowboys, Jason and Jay - constantly looking up at the towering clouds and congratulating ourselves, in that way all pilots do, for not going. I recited the ole, 'it's better to be down here wishing you were up there, than up there wishing you were down here' adage to Kevin, who claimed not to have heard it before (but he might have been being polite!)

Sedona airport - scarily perched on a mountain

Having refuelled at Sedona (the FBO filled her up for us. Did I mention I love America?) we were ready to depart pretty much straight away. With Sedona being a CTAF, we taxied out without any holdup. Upon the taxi call, Kevin said, "Cessna N5068E, holding short runway 21, any traffic on base or final, please make yourself known," which I thought was brilliant. I'd never thought to ask any traffic at a CTAF to speak up, and appreciated immediately how much safer Kevin's method was, than mine, of just looking for traffic.

After take off, we climbed straight into the burbly. We were hot, high (density altitude pushing 7500ft) and turbulent, but able to climb quickly and ascend past the worst. The journey back was spectacular; my words fail in doing justice to the magnificence of the scenery, and I'm afraid my photos aren't even close in illustrating how stunning the area is. We flew to Mount Superstition (there's a legend about gold on the top) and then home, towards Chandler, all the while chatting and comparing the difference in terminology between flying here and back in Australia.

Upon our return, I mentioned to Kevin that I would like to fly some circuits (or 'shoot some laps') to acquaint myself with Mr Floaty the 172, so he called inbound for circuits. Kevin was utterly convinced he could teach me to land the 172 without any float, and convinced me to pull to idle on base and apply absolutely no power unless necessary. Blow me down, it worked. I flew four very successful (although far from perfect) circuits, with the pesky Cessna behaving like a mild-manner Cherokee on every landing.

As we flew the final circuit, I said, "call the tower and request a glide approach. Let's see if I can land Mr Floaty from downwind!" Kevin declared a glide approach doesn't need tower approval in the US, so I pulled back to idle and made for the field. "Whatcha doing?!" asked Kevin, slightly ruffled. "A glide approach," I declared. "Ohhhh. That's not a glide approach! That's a short approach! That requires tower approval!"

There, right on base, was a fabulous example of an aeronautical language barrier! As I'd pretty much started, Kevin let me fly the approach, which ended in a successful landing, and I taxied back, triumphant. Not only had I had one of the most splendid days of the year, but I'd landed a 172, repeatedly, without any float. To say I was stoked would be an understatement.

After a long chat with Kevin, Jason (the school owner) and a very sardonic LAME, I asked for my bill, with baited breath. We'd flown nearly four hours, which in Australia, with an instructor, would exceed $1,200. When Jason printed out my account, I nearly fainted. $560!!!

There and then, and not for the last time, I declared I am not going back to Australia. At those prices, I could afford to rent a Bonanza - or maybe even, dream of dreams, afford to own one. I drove home (on the right side of the road, all the way) to a musical rendition of It's a Yankee Life for Me...

Friday, July 26, 2013

Keep Right and Keep your Feet off the Brakes

The plan was: fly the Grand Canyon; simple as that. After a quick google, I found a school I liked the vibe of, and went ahead and booked an aircraft and instructor for the whole day. Shortly after that, I found a hotel promising to be the American Experience after which I was hankering. Arizona, for me, had always been on the horizon. Something about red earth, and cacti and cities surrounded by mountains – not to mention the hometown of one of my favourite novelists, Barbara Kingsolver – had drawn me to Arizona on this trip.

After LA, a city to which I think I would struggle to belong, it was fantastic to see a horizon again. As I landed in Phoenix, I was amazed by how flat it was, although flanked by mountains. As I wheeled my luggage out of the terminal, I was hit by a ghastly heat. I’d be told Arizona was a dry heat, like Adelaide, but it felt as muggy as Queensland. My taxi driver was from Yemen (like Sydney, American cities seem to have exotic drivers from all over the world) who had moved here eight years ago and was converting his engineering degree. After a short history of Yemen, he assured me that my hotel, Hotel Valley Ho, was the funkiest in the state. And boy, he was not wrong.

Permit me to gush for a moment: staying at the Valley Ho is like stepping into the past (the 50s and the 70s) and into the future (space age) simultaneously. The colour scheme is bright blue and orange and my bedroom had a bath tub right in the middle. I was in motel heaven, tempted not to leave at all. Ever.

The Amazing Ho

Ahh, but then, of course, I had an aircraft booked. I realized that the airport from which I was flying was in Chandler, and I was staying in Scottsdale (which had its own airport, barely a mile a way. It was time to face my demons; time to hire a car. Having already spent over $300 on cabs, the writing was on the wall. Time to embrace my fear of driving on the other side of the road. Judy, the concierge of great fabulousness at the Ho, organized a car for me, and arranged for the company to come and pick me up. A young gentleman by the name of Nate drove me into town, all the while seeming very entertained by my growing hysteria about changing sides (of the road). “Oh! I would have turned that way, into the oncoming traffic!” I kept declaring, until I decided to shut up, lest he decline me the car.

El Presidente

When we arrived at the ‘rental center’, Nate showed me the cars and said I could have my pick. No convertibles. I requested a small car, and the smallest he could find was a Chevvy Cruse, which was large enough for me to lie down in. I immediately christened it El Presidente, as it looked like a corporate CEO’s wagon. And off I went, keeping more to the right than I had ever done in my life. I missed the mall entirely, forgetting that a right turn is like our left turn, by which I mean you don’t have to cross the traffic. I ended up in the Walmart parking lot and decided to go inside and see if it was true what they say about Walmart. And indeed it was. It’s massive, it’s cheap (I bought a curling iron for $5) and it’s full of badly dressed ‘wide’ people.

To the mantra of ‘keep right’, I made it back to the Ho, where I had a phone call from my instructor from Chandler, Mr Kevin Benhke.

I liked Kevin instantly. Over the phone he told me not to set my heart on the Canyon; there were embedded storm cells forecast, due to this hot, muggy weather, and it wasn’t looking good. He reassured me that he had a fab day planned, whether we made it to the canyon or not, and that he’d be looking forward to this for ages. With Kevin’s passion for aviation apparent over the phone, I felt certain I would have a fab day.

But first, of course, I had to get there. I fired up El Presidente, drove the wrong way round the carpark and then managed to get myself on the correct side of the highway heading south. Driving at 35mph and ignoring the beeps behind me (oh, the LEFT lane is the fast lane!) I made it to Chandler in a little over 30 mins. Kevin was there to greet me, as was Jason, the owner of Wings 270, a fabulous little school with the atmosphere of a club.

The Fabulous Kevin

Kevin is an independent instructor (something I’m pretty sure we don’t have in Oz) who works from Wings 270, splitting the instructor fee with Jason. He is also that very very rare breed of instructor – a career instructor, one with no intention of going to the airlines (for which he would take a pay cut, at a regional level!!) Although currently working part time in his day job as a banker, Kevin is not long off being able to work from his own company, Genesis Fliers, full time. All I can say is, if I could pack him up and take him back to Australia, I would.

Our bird for the day was a 172, a machine with which I have never had an affinity. Next to the 172 was a lovely old Cherry 140, with the “Hershey Bar” wings, but sadly she was too old to climb to the height we required for the canyon. Despite Kevin’s prayer the night before for the storms cells to go away, and my Dance of the CAVOK, the clouds were building up. After a thorough walkaround, we departed Chandler, with Kevin taking care of the radio, and me flying. “Feet off the brakes” became Kevin’s mantra as I taxied the 172 for what seemed like miles to the run up bay. I laughed, as I was reminded of The Coach, and how he used to touch the brake pads after my taxi back to Curtis and get very cross if they were hot. It’s my worst habit, and Kevin was utterly determined to ‘brake’ it. I explained it came from my castoring nose wheel days, but he was having none of it.

C172P 68E

As we took off, I was pleased to see the 172 climbed really well. We navigated Phoenix’s control zone, tracking directly over Sky Harbor International Airport (I love it how they let us track over giant airports!) and set a course for Sedona. One of my objectives was to land at a high altitude airport, and when I heard from Robbs that Sedona was my kinda town (arty farty) I was delighted to be going. Kevin assured me landing there would be an experience, and he certainly wasn’t lying.

overhead Sky Harbor

Although long (over 3000ft) the runway is perched on the top of the mountain. With the temperature already soaring, despite it being early morning, the density altitude for the strip was 7200ft! Due to the hillocks on final, we had to make a high approach and then slip off the height (something I’d never done in a 172, but as SideSlippin Queen, I was in my element!) and we still landed three quarters of the way down the runway (although that was largely due to my ballooning the stupid floaty Cessna).

Beautiful red Sedona

We taxied to the FBO, and as Kevin tied down, I stood there, mouth open, in awe of the beauty of Sedona, perched high in the sky and surrounded by fabulously shaped bright orange mountains. We went inside to check the wx, met the wonderful FBO staff – Cowboy J and Jason, who kept me very entertained – and refuelled the aircraft. Upon checking the weather, Kevin prepared me for the fact that we probably wouldn’t make it, and we made a plan.

The plan was, take off, climb out up to 10,500 and see if we could get over the clouds. Going under wasn’t an option as the terrain was high and the cloud bases low. Kevin discussed the possibility of scud running, but I said I was dead set against, and he looked mightly relieved.

As we took off from Sedona, I commented I wouldn’t want to land here on a windy day, and Kevin told me about the time he did, and how frightful it was, whilst we began the almighty climb to 10,500ft. The first 7,500 were easy, but then the 172 started to tire, and by 8,500 we were barely getting 200fpm. The clouds were rising faster than we could climb and by the time we made it to 10,5000ft it was clear we weren’t going to make it. When Kevin picked up Flagstaff’s ATIS and we heard lightening on the forecast, we made up our minds to land and have lunch at Sedona instead.

With the wind having swung, we took the southern end to land and were greeted by a rather high hillock on final, necessitating another big slip, and another half-way-down-the-strip landing. We tied up, rented a car (a pilot’s special, $10 per hour. I love America) and drove into town to explore....

...to be continued....

Wednesday, July 24, 2013



I have long held a theory that people have a country to which they instinctively belong. For many unfortunates, that’s not necessarily the country they’re born in, or even the one in which they end up residing. Rather like those who feel they were born in the wrong gender, I have always felt I was born in the wrong country (not to mention the wrong time period!) Growing up, I felt little affinity with Wales, and spent my entire youth with a sense of not belonging (although, what youth doesn’t?!)

When I was sixteen, my ‘very serious’ boyfriend emigrated to the United States, and his father kindly bought me a ticket to visit, to ease our poor, pining souls. The moment I landed in Philly, I knew I was home. Despite living in many locations, I’ve spent my life trying to get back to America. I lived for a year in Missoula, Montana; spent a whole summer working in Wildwood, New Jersey; enjoyed my 29th birthday in New York; house-swapped in San Francisco and flew across Michigan upon acquiring my pilots licence. Yet circumstances have always forbidden me to live here. Try as I might, it never happens. So, I have to content myself with holidays over here every few years. This year, I have the ultimate excuse: the EAA’s AirVenture, the greatest air show on earth!

I love so much about America – the hospitality, the lovely warm people, the natural optimistic can-do attitude, the food – but most of all, I love the American attitude towards general aviation. It’s the exact opposite to our ‘service with a snarl, VFR pilots are a nuisance, user pays – sometimes even for touch and goes! – ridiculously priced, tall poppy’ industry.

The last time I visited, I was smitten by the FBOs. The idea that every airport has a facility dedicated to aiding pilots, with fuel, with drinks, with booking a car, was unfathomable to me, coming from Australia. I’ve landed at so many airports where there is nary a soul to be seen, where I’ve tied down my aircraft next to those with grass growing over the wheels, and returned days later to no change or movement in anything. Don’t get me wrong, we in Australia have a fabulous community of pilots, and when I flew solo across Oz on my Biggus Trippus, I met some incredible people. However, I’ve dedicated many words in detailing what’s wrong with Australia’s aviation industry here, on the blog; in the mag I have a strong ‘anti-whingeing policy’ which I stand by; we ALL know we’re lacking in the service industry and whining about it does not change things. That doesn’t mean, though, that I can’t celebrate what’s so damn wonderful about flying in America.

Having had a fabulous flight over with Air New Zealand (I flew their new, modernized premium economy, which was tip-top) I spent a few days in LA. Someone, somewhere, had mentioned there’s a special VFR lane through LA, which takes you right over the top of LAX. After a little research, I found a flying club in Long Beach who were happy to hire me and aircraft and instructor for the trip.

Long Beach Flying Club is a charming club/flying school located at the fab regional airport, half an hour south of LA (or $110 in a cab, damn that traffic!) They have a massive fleet of training aircraft, Warriors and Cessnas, etc. Having turned up early, as is my curse, I explored the aerodrome, and found a café overlooking the rwy. Heaven!

Ready to Fly, LA Style

 When I arrived at the club, and was introduced to my instructor, Brian, I was informed that the weather was too rubbish to let us out. Used to being thwarted by the evil weather gods, I wasn’t entirely surprised and repaired to the ‘washroom’ to commence the Dance of the CAVOK. An hour later, the clouds lifted, and we were off, with me flying, and Brian doing all of the radio work.

Instructor Brian, who was calm, patient and fabulous

Long Beach, normally a thriving airport of both RPT and GA, was quiet due to the cloud, but I’m still thankful Brian covered the radio; the calls seemed so long and complicated. Otherwise, all was familiar inside the little Cherokee as we took off on the giant runway and pointed north for LA. The VFR Special Rules requires no submitting of a flight plan, and although the radio work seemed heavy during the LAX portion, for the latter part of the flight, the radio was eerily quiet, with only one other pilot flying the route. The route is reminiscent of our Vic One, with a harbour scenic (apart from the scenic requires a flight plan). The scattered cloud allowed us to climb to 4500ft and we tracked directly over the top of LAX, which was incredible, before heading up the coast to Santa Monica. Overhead Malibu, where the celebs live, we descended to 1800ft and tracked Hollywood and then downtown LA.

overhead LAX

It’s only from the air that I had any sense of the enormity of LA. It truly is a gigantic, sprawling city, and denser than any I’ve ever seen from a light aircraft. In the case of an engine failure, we may as well have been over mountains, or water.

Downtown LA

As we headed back towards LGB, the weather gods decided to play one of their amusing tricks and cause the cloud to gather right over the airport. Luckily for me, all instructors in the USA are instrument rated and despite the crudity of our aircraft (no GPS!) Long Beach is equipped with an ILS. To my complete awe (there are very few ILS approaches near us, and as a consequence, I’ve never experienced an ILS) we popped out from the cloud with the rwy right in front of us, with Brian using only the CDI! At 800ft, he handed the controls back to me, and I landed on the numbers on the giant runway. It was such an exhilarating experience, and once again I wished I had an instrument rating, and vowed to make the time to go and see Lyn in Cowra upon my return.

Them there pesky clouds

And then, upon learning instructors at LBFC earn over $50ph hour, I couldn’t help but think, maybe I CAN find a way to live here. To come on home….

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Aeronautical Impotence

Forgive me readers, for I have sinned. I have a confession to make:
it had been six months since my last in-command flight. 

Six whole months since I washed down a windscreen, drained fuel from a tank and removed a pitot cover. I had flown on the top of the Stearman, upside down in an Extra and interstate in a PC12, but I had not placed my feet on a pair of rudder pedals since December. And it’s not as if I could blame the weather. We’ve had the finest Autumn I can remember, with crisp blue days and light winds.

I was starting to feel ill.

It started with a general irritability; a short-tempered grumpiness upon hearing of others’ trips. I promised to book a flight as soon as possible but plans were scuppered by one thing or another – work, commitments, a medical renewal.

I started to feel actual physical pain.

Everyone else seemed to be flying but me. Facebook was full of people’s flight journeys and the circuit at Bankstown – directly above my office - was humming with joyful student activity. The flight path into Sydney, under which I had deliberately purchased a house, was mocking me now with its endless noise.

When I bit the bullet and booked an aircraft for an entire week, a strange series of events prevented me from taking it away. Shortly after, due to an unresolvable altercation, I decided it was time to move on from the club where I'd been renting.

As a consequence, I found myself aircraft-less.

It was during that very barren, PIC-free time that I learnt something about myself: I was deliberately sabotaging my own chances to fly. I was making excuses. Something had happened to which I was not prepared to admit: I had contracted a case of the av-willies. I was suffering from aeronautical impotence.

All month, while editing submissions to the magazine, reading tales of courage and determination, I realised I had lost mine. And I was forced to look at why. It took me a few days, but I got there in the end: somewhere along the line, since I’d become editor, I had become aware of my mortality.

It hit me like a force; an empty, scared feeling was sitting in the pit of my stomach. It was fear; the awareness that every time I take an aircraft into the sky, the only thing between myself and disaster is my landing. If I don’t land, I will die. It was (and I can’t believe I only started to feel this now, after five years of flying!) a pivotal moment.

I knew immediately I needed to get back in command, but when my headset and  GPS were stolen from my car, I saw it as a sign. A sign I should not be flying. I allowed the av-willies to spook me further, until I was almost impotent with fear.

And then, I had a phone call from a friend. Would l like to join her in some circuits at Camden? She had an aircraft for two hours, and was happy to split costs. She even offered to pick me up at my house and lend me a headset.

Anyone who has had an absence from flying will know how I felt: excited, trepidatious, a little bit scared. But strangely, the overriding feeling was one of belonging. As soon as I stepped into that little Warrior, it felt right; I was right where I was supposed to be.

Needless to say, the flight was magical. My skills were still there, a testament to my training. I could fly. Of course I could.

As I write this, a few days later, I can safely say that the antidote to aeronautical impotence is simply to fly. Perhaps my landings were not as graceful as they could have been, but my mortality was never in danger.

Sometimes, as a multi-national shoe giant declares, you have to ‘just do it’. I’m so glad I did.