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, December 10, 2014

Rocket Woman

Before I launch into a new blog, I feel I owe an explanation for the absence from this space over almost the whole of 2014.

Amongst the new speak of the Millennials is a loathsome expression, which for me is up there with lifestyle, synergy and chillax: work/life balance. Until recently, that expression has inspired in me the same kind of rage-against-smugness usually reserved for thick shakes containing grass of any sort, people who boast about their property portfolios and pilots who own aircraft and never fly them. This year, however, I've had my own personal demonstration of the importance of a work/life balance and now, suddenly, I can see why people at least strive for one.

Balance: it's not just for rudder pedals.

After five years as a columnist - and two years as editor- of Australian Pilot, I've moved on to new skies. As of March of this year, I've been globetrotting in my new role of Customer Engagement Manager for AvPlan EFB - visiting Sun n Fun and Oshkosh to promote AvPlan in the USA, as well as travelling around New Zealand on an AvPlan demo tour.

I'm also freelancing, having taken on the SAAA's Airsport magazine, and a contract with CASA's Flight Safety Australia.

And now, the balance ball feels, once again, in the centre.

It's in the capacity of Airsport Editor that I took on the following assignment:

It may not take you out of this world, but it sure can rock it

“If offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask which seat. Just get on.”

Christa McAuliffe, astronaut and first high school teacher in space

F1 Rocket, ready for take off

I had mixed reactions when I told people I was going to fly in a rocket over the weekend. My arty, non aviation friends assumed it was another crazy stunt - up there with wing walking, formation flying and flying solo across the country in heels and lipstick – and soon lost interest. My pilot pals, however, responded with the all-important question: F1 or Harmon?

The answer is: F1. In fact, the full answer is: two F1s.

Although the two have known to be confused, the Harmon is Vans’ high performance derivative of the RV-4, while the F1 is the product of Team Rocket of Texas, USA. The F1 Rocket is a stand-alone, quickbuild kit and does not require the builder to purchase anything from other aircraft manufacturers to complete the assembly.

Designed in the Czech Republic, the F1 Rocket is a tandem two-seat low wing, constructed largely of aluminium. A fixed gear tail-dragger, the F1 features an enormous rear-sliding canopy, and deep bucket seating and is fully aerobatic. Designed for construction with a range of nose-mounted engines between 235 and 350hp, the prototype has a Lycoming IO-540 with a three-bladed propeller.

Rocket Cruise

Nick Wills is part of a syndicate that has built - and now owns - two Team Rocket F1s. The aircraft are hangared at Temora, NSW, and Nick invited me along to admire, fly and experience their sheer magnificence. I flew to Temora on a glorious afternoon, in time for an evening flight in VH-NBW.

VH-XFI and VH-NBW are subtly different: XFI is the most glorious, with its three-blade variable pitch prop, traditional clocks and sleek black exterior. NBW boasts a mix of digital and analogue instruments, a two blade prop and uber-modern silver skin.

Nick and his syndicate partner, Rohan Hall, had previously owned an RV4. After much discussion, they decided they wanted something a little faster and more comfortable for the rear-seater. Rohan’s son Matt had flown an F1 Rocket in the USA and described the experience as ‘the most fun he’d ever had in a single engine piston, with the exception of a P51 Mustang.’

Six years in the build from start to finish, Nick was involved in every stage.

Dual Rockets

As there are a mere nine F1 Rockets flying in Australia today, the privilege of being invited to fly in two was not lost on me. After a detailed briefing, Nick introduced me to our photo-ship pilot, Kenny Love and his immaculate 1973 (??) Piper Lance. Our photographer, Qantas 747 Captain Rod Andrewartha, came armed with a giant lens and a harness, ready to strap into the Lance for the first of our two formation shoots.

After allowing the Lance to take off and climb, we ran up and were ready on the runway, with Nick eager to demonstrate one of the F1’s finest features: its climb performance. With a max take off weight 907kg – BEW is 544kg – and 260hp on the nose it’s no word of a lie that I held onto my hat as we climbed out at 3500fpm! With a cruise speed of 200kts, we caught up with the Lance in no time, and with the township of Temora as a backdrop, we flew a series of rolls and turns for the photographer, while I marveled at the machine’s grace.

Unexpectedly, the F1 is very polite in level flight – not nearly as twitchy as its looks imply, with its behaviour in steep turns and loops far less aggressive than I was anticipating. After an hour, as the sun was starting to set, we headed back to the airport, where the pressure was on Nick to show me the perfect ‘greaser’ landing. With 352 hours in F1 Rockets, Nick didn’t even break a sweat as he executed a perfect ‘wheeler’ on 36, with a slight crosswind at that.

Rocket Team

The next morning, we were joined by former F18 pilot Alan Clements for a formation shoot involving both aircraft and the Lance. This time in the rear of XFI, I was briefed and shot once more into the sky for an hour of close formation, in the hands of the most experienced Rocket pilots in the country. After a little hands-on time, Alan took back the controls and demonstrated a series of loops (one after the other!) in attempt to provide the perfect cover shot. “Again!” came the command from the photo-ship, and I swear we turned seven or eight before we were told to stop. And reader, I didn’t even blanch, so elegantly flown were the maneouvers.

Back on the ground, and high on adrenaline, I asked Nick about his passion for the F1. What is it, I wanted to know, that makes this machine so seriously superior? “It has everything,” he declared. “It’s fast, agile, aerobatic, has six cylinders, makes a six cylinder noise, and it looks great. It has been described, by several F18 drivers, as the closest thing to a piston engine fighter that is not military in origin. It’s truly superb!”

As I prepare for the impending disappointment of my return in a Piper Archer, I ask Nick one final question: to what would you compare the F1 Rocket? He laughs and says, “There is nothing that compares to an F1 Rocket - except another F1 Rocket!”

Photos by Rod Andrewartha

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