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


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Cirrus Life

According to the late American psychiatrist William Glasser, we are driven by five genetic needs: survival; love and belonging; power; freedom and fun - and it just occurred to me that aviation caters to each of these needs, sometimes in turn and sometimes simultaneously. I have just returned from an experience of the latter: The Cirrus Life event at Hamilton Island.

With SR22 FER at Roma

While no pilot on earth could argue they need an aircraft for their survival, any pilot who remembers their first solo (and that's all of us!) can attest to the fact that flying is a survival exercise. The moment that giant piece of metal (or carbon composite!) is in the air, the pilot's impending survival is dependent on their ability to land the aircraft; we literally take our own lives into our hands when ever we go flying. Of course, flying a Cirrus aircraft which boasts the lowest accident rates in the industry [0.49% compared with the average of 1.2%, 2014. For more info visit http://whycirrus.com/safety/cirrus-history.aspx] with their in built safety features: the blue button, the CAPS, ESP, hypoxia alerts and FIKI, significantly increases the chances of survival, should an unfortunate incident occur.  So, while take offs are optional and landings mandatory, it's clear to see that once a pilot is airborne, flying is about survival.

Co-pilot to the fabulous Rob Fuller

The Cirrus Life event placed a big focus on training, improvement and learning. For two days, seminars were offered on engine maintenance and management, avionics, flight planning and advanced handling techniques. Specialist mentors were on hand to aid pilots with advice and support and senior American staff were present and approachable across the entire event. I myself manage to catch CEO Dale Klapmeier, to ask a few Cirrus specific questions, including what does the SR stand for in SR20 and SR22...answers in the comment section, pilots...

Dale Klapmeier presenting a seminar on the Vision Jet

Of course, flying is about so much more than survival. Although for many a job in the industry is their mode of financial survival, for the majority of us, flying begins (and often continues!) as fun. There are as many ways to have fun as there are aircraft types, and while flying inverted isn't my favourite way to get my kicks, for some it's the only way. For me, the fun is in the travel, the journey, which is why I'm at home in a comfortable, well-equipped tourer (with cup holders!) Fun, too, is belonging to a group of like minded individuals. Like many mammals, humans are pack animals, for whom the group is vital. Birds of a feather do indeed flock together. 36 Cirrus aircraft flew in from all over the country (which represents nearly 25% of the total Cirrus aircraft in Australia) including five Australis (Australi?) with 143 people in attendance at the dinner on Saturday night. Although I was at the previous Cirrus Life event in 2013, this was my first Life event as Cirrus staff. The contrast is that now I am part of the Cirrus family, which extends to everyone involved in Cirrus - pilot or not. Not only do I have the chance to fly amazing aircraft, I also have access to an enormous body of group knowledge; between the attendees at the Cirrus Life event the knowledge and experience of the company - its history, its future - every aspect was covered. There's nothing there one couldn't learn about any aspect of Cirrus. But, in addition to the knowledge, is the shared experience. I could literally walk up to any person and start a conversation (not hard for me, I know..) and be certain we would have something very vital in common - our love for Cirrus aircraft.

Landing at Hammo with Rob Fuller

But, aside from learning, the event's focus was equally on fun. The Friday night cocktail party hosted a steel band, alongside drinks and canap├ęs at the breathtakingly beautiful yacht club. Saturday night's dinner was headlined by the side-splittingly funny - and extraordinarily talented - James Morrison (former Cirrus owner, who arrived in a Piper as Dale pointed out in his intro speech, with comic derision!). The James Morrison band, made up of his (giant!) sons and the most fabulous scat singer I've encountered since Kurt Elling, provided a diverse and amusing evening, which ended in a raffle and a happy birthday to my boss, Cirrus Melbourne CEO Charles Gunter. 

The Sunday evening leaving drinks, set around the pool, had no planned entertainment. However, half way through the evening, one of the event waiters made an announcement that a staff member was getting married. He invited her to step up and sing a song in order to receive her wedding present, and blushing, she stepped up to the mic and issued a painful rendition of Waltzing Matilda. The crowd applauded her bravery, when the waiter, Mario Lasagne, broke into Pavarotti, claiming 'THIS is how you sing!" As the crowd stared in disbelief, Rebecca, the tone deaf waitress, declared he hadn't mentioned she should sing opera and burst into the aria from Carmen. After a duet, followed by a rendition of Hey Big Spender, the team announced they were hired by Graham Horne (regional director of Cirrus) from a company called Undercover Entertainers, whereupon they proceeded to thrill the audience with their outstanding opera selection. Finally, Vice President of Marketing, Ben Kowalski, was added to the mix, with his outstanding performance on the triangle!

In addition to seminars, presentations and musical fun, the Cirrus Life event provided an opportunity for interested pilots to fly with mentors, both CSIPs from Australia and the USA. As I'm midway through my Cirrus transition, I took advantage of this opportunity by booking a session with Andy Hartel of Cirrus Sunshine Coast, and Kevin Korteum from the factory in Duluth. And here is where I had the chance to experience both power and freedom in the same session. The SR22 is the most powerful aircraft I've flown to date, with a 310hp IO-550 six cylinder Continental engine. To date, my command experience has been on the smaller IO-360, 200hp. 

Short final, Hamilton Island, me in command

With Kevin Korteum
I spent the next two days, in two sessions of two hours, flying circuits (in challenging coastal weather!) and learning about power management in higher performance aircraft. By the end of session two, I could barely walk from all the rudder inputs (oh for a yaw damper!) but had finally earned the right to change my name to Kreisha 'nails the centreline' Ballantyne. And while I'm not fully certified as Girl With a Side Stick just yet, I now have the confidence and the knowledge and experience to know it won't be too long. Both Andy and Kevin were incredibly laid back, and made me feel confident and capable, despite the unfamiliar surroundings and challenging winds. I cannot reiterate the value of spending the time with qualified mentors, something I lacked in my early flying experiences (but more than made up for in the later part of my journey: you know who you are, dear mentors of mine!)

For me, flying has always been about freedom. From my very first flight, a TIF back in 2008, aviation has represented liberty to me. As someone who believes that travel begins when you pack your bags, the process of travel - flying - has always been my favourite part of the journey. When I became licenced to BE the pilot of that journey, I gained the absolute freedom: to combine travel and flying, my two passions, into one event. To fly to the Cirrus Life event (although not PIC, I was fortunate to be co-pilot to the fabulous Rob Fuller in his lovingly cared for and immaculate SR22) on Hamilton Island, and then spend the weekend amongst like-minded people, eating, drinking, learning and making new acquaintances, is about as good as it gets. Cirrus Life? Yes please!