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, April 12, 2018

Dusty Logbook

It’s 5.30am. The light is not yet poking in through the gap in the blind I can never fix. It’s dark and, strangely for the inner city, it’s quiet. My body is on Mexican time. I give in to its refusal to sleep and creep downstairs to make coffee. My stomach reminds me it’s still yesterday, dinner time, and although I have few of the ingredients with which to make huevos rancheros, I do have eggs. As I eat my boiled eggs in the dark, I am reminded of the only times in the past decade that 5.30am and I have been acquainted: to fly. Aviation is the one thing that can bounce me out of bed in the morning when the world is still dark.

By the light of my phone, I seek out my logbook. I find it on the bookshelf, under two years’ tax returns and a flier for salsa dancing. If my logbook were an emoji, it would be the one with the sad face and the solitary tear. The last logged entry is March 25, 2017. If my logbook were a soldier, it would be MIA. Today is March 25, 2018. Clearly, nostalgia enjoys synchronicity.

The last aircraft I flew was a Cirrus. In fact, the last time I flew anything but a Cirrus was March 28, 2015 when I flew a C182 for a fundraising event. I calculate I have 136.3 hours total time in Cirri (30.5 dual, 105.8 command) garnered over my two years as Sales and Marketing Manager at Cirrus Melbourne. The most stable and consistent part of my otherwise chaotic and diverse logbook, if this section were an athlete, she would be at the top of her game. I had reached my dream, my goal, my raison d'être: to not only fly, but to be paid to fly; to have access to an aircraft I could know as well as I knew the route to the airport, or the Virgin lounge.

Nearly all of those Cirrus hours are in FIFi – not the first machine for whom I professed love, but certainly the finest. After years of feeling like an aviation imposter – having flown with, and learnt from, so many incredible pilots, I never felt in myself the confidence others would project on to me; always knew I was a writer who flew, rather than a pilot who wrote – I finally found my mojo with FIFi. She was not my first, last, fastest or most highly spec’d aircraft - others bemoaned the lack of yaw damper, FIKI or new style door – but to me, she was perfect. Somewhere in those 100 or so hours, I found an equilibrium: a balance between my skills as a pilot, my knowledge of the aircraft and my inner confidence. I had some near-perfect flights and discovered a part of myself I sincerely thought I would never attain. I called it Av-Zen.

When FIFi was sold to the Sydney Syndicate, I was allowed to continue to fly her until my replacement, KBZ, arrived. My last flight in FIFi was January 30, 2017, when she was on display at the Maitland Airshow. I never got to meet KBZ.

In May 2016, my dad, aged only sixty-four, was diagnosed with lung cancer. My sister and I arrived back in the UK in the nick of time, as we watched him deteriorate before our eyes. Four nights before he died, he insisted on taking us to the pub. Skeletal and unsteady, he bought us all a pint, confessed his sins (and there were many!) and talked about how he had very few regrets.

Ten days after our arrival, he was dead; a death that was rapid and brutal.

Being so very similar, we had a tempestuous relationship: we once didn’t speak for six years, after which I phoned him up and informed I was now a pilot and editor of a flying magazine. He hopped on a plane, and I took him flying, which resulted in an article we co-wrote; a piece of work I’ll always cherish. To this day, it’s one of my favourite memories, and the photo I took of him standing on the wing of an old Archer, beaming with pride, is the picture we displayed at his funeral.

My dad’s death triggered something in me which was very difficult to understand. I was consumed by an impulse to live recklessly, passionately and in the moment. On one hand, I was able to leave my grief, along with my impatience, my scattiness and my flamboyance, on the ground when I flew. Every pilot learns that they can’t take it with them. For months, I thought I was getting away with it: I flew well, I was there for my clients, I lived and breathed Cirrus. But on the other, something was pulling, stretching, niggling and bugging me, like a mosquito in the dark.

And then it broke.

It was January, 2017, in Knoxville, Tennessee. I was attending the wrap-up party after a week-long global sales meeting. It had been a fabulous week, culminating in the opportunity of a lifetime: the chance to fly the Vision Jet. An exciting year was ahead. I was drinking fine wine, listening to a country band, eating home-made southern fried chicken on a waffle and watching trapeze artists fly through the room (Cirrus knows how to throw a damn fine party). As I sauntered over to the buffet table, I noticed a giant ice-sculpture of a Cirrus, placed bang in the middle of the grits, shrimp and mashed potato. As I stood and stared, watching it slowly, slowly melt, I was overcome with panic. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t move, and as tears silently streamed down my face, I was grateful that it was dark and that I was alone, far away in a hangar on the other side of the world. I finally pulled myself together, found a bus, made it back to my hotel, where I went straight to bed. The next day, the rest of the team went on to Nashville, or back to Australia, while the Crowne Plaza in Knoxville kept me safe. I stared blankly at the tv and binge ate burgers from room service. Not even a visit to Dollywood could lure me out. I was in lockdown for 32 hours.

When I emerged, I hired a car and drove to Nashville. I felt different. Kind of joyless. I went through the motions of sociability, but I felt like an avatar. All my life, I’d been around people with depression – my friends are artists, musicians, academics: the sensitive types. It seems odd now, looking back, that I didn’t recognise it in myself. The colours dimmed and I felt sad, and tired, and terribly old. Other times, I felt manic, on top of the world, invincible. I suspected bipolar disorder, but was too afraid of a diagnosis, knowing that it would mean medication. Already in psychoanalysis, I stepped up my sessions to twice a week. My therapist helped me through the bleakness without medication, but we had a psychiatrist on standby, just in case

In March 2017, after twenty-four years of marriage, my husband and I decided to separate. At the age of 45, I was finely placed for what is commonly called a Mid Life Crisis. Personally, I like to call it a Mid Life Adventure, largely because none of life’s knocks can erode my optimism, and partly because a crisis implies loss of control. And, as any pilot, or indeed any Type A personality knows, loss of control is scarier than death itself. Pilots don’t have crises; they have adventures.

And adventures I had: I bought a vintage sports car; I engaged in a week-long residential therapy course where I met a man who showed me how to live my life in the moment; I bought not one, but two, motorbikes; I sampled a Cuban cigar in Havana and learned how to make the perfect Mojito, courtesy of a Cuban bar-tender; I smoked legal Marijuana in California, ate snails in Paris, zip-lined through the jungles of Borneo, attempted Muay Thai Boxing in Phuket, drank Singapore Slings at the Raffles hotel, drove a Chevvy convertible through the desert to Vegas, and lay on the softest sands of Mexican beaches.

However, because this isn’t a film trailer for a cheesy rom-com called Life After Forty, I knew that despite the crazy adventures, I had to face my dark side. I had left my marriage, sold my beautiful house and broke up my family.

And, because of the voice inside that tells me what’s right, I quit flying.

My last flight in command was February 16th 2017. It was a beautiful flight, to Mudgee, with the man who showed me how to live in the moment. It wasn’t his first flight in a light aircraft, but I treated it with the care and compassion of a first experience. The weather conditions were gorgeous and as we tied up at Mudgee, I got chatting to another pilot, who kindly offered me his car. The man who showed me how to live in the moment and I found a tiny vineyard, serving delicious home-made food and locally grown wine (for him). Our flight home was super-smooth, with the afternoon light illuminating the Blue Mountains in a way that gives me goose-bumps. My landing was lovely, as if I knew it would be my last flight in command for the unforeseeable future.

In June 2017, I left Cirrus. I stopped work altogether, apart from my six annual articles for Flight Safety Australia, which kept my bond with aviation going enough to keep me relatively sane. Other than that, I largely disconnected from the aviation community, focussing on finding a new home, attending therapy and working out whether I would need to retrain, start again, build a new life. A health issue, which turned out not to be cancer, thankfully, helped to adjust my perspective on life.

So, when my last piece for FSA, entitled The Future’s So Bright – why now is the best time to fly GA – was written, I took the story as a way back to aviation. As I was researching the article, I posted on Facebook, looking for opinions and stories, and was shocked by the response: people were angry about the ‘state of GA’, about medicals, about the regulator. Some suggested my article could only be a work of fiction. Others were sardonic; some witty; a few, encouraging.

Suddenly, something in me moved. I felt my old passion for GA rise up in me and shouted, directly in the face of Facebook, ‘aviation needs optimists, dammit!’ I wrote the piece with a force of optimism and gusto that I really, really believe in.

As a consequence of the post – I’d kept a low profile on social media over the non-flying period – three separate aviation magazines contacted me, asking me if I was ‘back from the dead’ and available to write.

To write about flying requires actual flying. I know that to be true to myself that I must fly. I considered my options and decided that it was time. I accepted a job I know I will enjoy; a job that will be kind to me and give me the space I need to tentatively explore my next phase in aviation. I will continue to seek varied work in the industry once more.

It’s now 9.46am. It’s light, sunny and the noises of the city have commenced. I’m still in my writing position, my logbook open on my bed, my mug of coffee long cold.

After a year of adventures, a lot of solitude, time, patience and empathy, and nearly three years (to date!) of therapy, I have reached a place where I can understand myself and my grief without having to live under the label of a diagnosis.

I have turned the page, both figuratively and literally: my logbook is open on the next blank page, awaiting the stroke of my finest pen.

I don’t know when this flight will be, or where, or in what aircraft type. But I do know that I’m ready. If my logbook were a patient, this blank year would be its scars.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Marvellous Mount Gambier

I'd like to begin this post with a gush alert: ALERT, ALERT! I LOVE MY JOB! WHAT FOLLOWS WILL REFLECT THAT IN SPADES.

And now, with that disclaimer laid down, let me tell you about the most marvellous weekend I've had since Hamilton Island.

Having recently taken delivery of the most beautiful Australis in the country - VH-FIF, or FIFi, as she's now lovingly known - I've begun the most exciting part of my job: showing her off to pilots and potential pilots all over my territory. So, when OzRunways' Bas Scheffers mentioned he'd be at Mount Gambier Aero Club for a masterclass, and that I might like to come along and demonstrate the new SR22, I hopped (well, flew) to it.

Firstly, of course, I had to get those landings up to speed. Having not had a demo aircraft since the sale of ZZD, I had become rusty, to say the least. With my transition training completed in Avia's SR20 VDR, I hadn't landed a 22 since Tasmania in November. I booked in a few sessions with CSIP Nige Clark and hit the Bankstown circuit. I'd forgotten so much about the power differences between the SR20 and SR22 (nearly a THIRD more horsepower in the 22) that my right leg was aching after an hour of training and I went to bed that night dreaming of yaw dampers.

The very patient Nige Clark
After a few hours of re-training, Nige declared me ok to go. So, with Graham Horne along to assist, and OzRunways pilot Dean Sewell as passenger, we loaded up FIFi for the very first demo visit of the year: to Mount Gambier. With the still-new-smell of leather seats and the cupholders loaded with water (no coffee in my new bird!) we loaded up the Perspective with the plan for Mount Gambier, and I applied my newly taut right leg muscles to rudder pedals for take-off.

Team Cirrus!

Oh what an amazing machine the SR22 is! While I dodged the clouds (instrument rating this year!) on climb, we whizzed up to 8500, where everything was smooth and calm. I set up the autopilot, leaned the aircraft and settled back to a smooth and comfortable 61% power, with a TAS of 168kts and a fuel burn of 12.6USG. The flight time to Mount Gambier tracking via Canberra and Melbourne was a minute over three hours, with a 26kt headwind! I spent the rest of the flight taking the opportunity to familiarise myself with some of the more sophisticated features of the Perspective, with Graham setting me challenges such as adding an extended centreline, locating end of daylight information and customising the panel with my own options (I like the man's voice telling me what to do; by that I mean the lovely gentleman in the Cirrus Perspective - not Graham Horne!)

On approaching Mount Gambier, Graham took over to demonstrate the IFR features to Dean, conducting an RNAV with vertical guidance, which blew all our socks off! I took over at 1000ft and managed a very passable landing (still more practice for me!) which set me up for a great evening (who doesn't let bad landings ruin their day?!)

Upon arrival we were met by the warmest reception from the members of the Mount Gambier Aero Club, with event organiser Paul Goodman and his lovely wife Sue offering us their car for the weekend. After a beer, we headed into to town for a gorgeous meal at the Commodore Hotel.

The next morning, we were joined by Cessna, showcasing their new 182 (which, suprisingly, has a 100KG smaller payload than the SR22!) and pilots from all over the state in Sportscruisers, Diamonds, Pipers and of course, Cirri, as well as a few C210s.

With FIFi parked up on the grass shining in her fullest glory, I commenced my favourite part of the job: showing people the aircraft and organising demos. With three lined up for Sunday morning, OzRunways commenced their masterclass.

Much to my surprise, Paul had asked me to present a dinner speech for the club's dinner that evening, and, strangely for me who has much room for improvement in the public speaking department, and so I went back to prepare the images and subject Graham to my speech. Having tidied up the images and tightened the speech, we headed out to the aero club and braced ourselves for the usual club fare of tough steak and sausages. Well, may we be struck for tarring all aero clubs with the one stick! Treated to a three course fare that would satisfy any restaurant goer, we feasted on fresh seafood, tender steak and magnificent cheese, swilled down with local wines from the vineyards of
The wonderful chefs of Mount Gambier
some of the club members. Oh, I do SO love aviation events!

After the first course, the crowd were regaled by tales from Horsham Aviation's Tony Brand, a natural public speaker who presented with charm and grace. During the first course, it became apparent that my images were not going to play on the club's projector, and so I sought out Paul and told him it might be better if I abandoned my speech and let people simply enjoy the wine. However, Paul was having none of it, claiming he'd made up a great intro and I was simply to get on with it.

So, with perhaps a little more wine on board than is professional, I shot from the hip and told the story of the careers officer who claimed I was too stupid to learn to fly. Thank goodness for the generosity of the Mount Gambier club members, who were kind enough to offer applause!

After partaking in the very best red the region had to offer, and meeting some of the loveliest pilots in the state, I realised I was getting a little too glassy, and designated driver Bas drove us back for a great night sleep.

The next morning, we were served a breakfast fit for any Sydney cafe, followed by Geoff's very own freshly brewed espresso; I declared Mount Gambier my kind of town. Had it not been for my beautiful demonstrator needing to be flown back to Bankstown, I might have just stayed.

Mount Gambier Aero Club, Cirrus Australia thanks you for your wonderful hospitality; you have set the bar so very high for the rest of the Cirrus Demo Tour!

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 canapés 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!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

One week; three lovely birds!

My life has taken a very exciting turn: I have been offered and accepted a position at Cirrus Melbourne as Sales and Marketing Manager!

Suddenly, everything is Cirrus, and while the learning curve is huge, I have had the opportunity to learn on the job over the course of the last week. The first flight in an SR22 GTS to Wagga, detailed in the previous post, was the start of many more flights in many more Cirruses (I still like Cirri better as a plural).

For my second flight of the week, I was fortunate to be present for an 'acceptance' flight: a customer had purchased an aircraft from the factory and had it shipped to Blue Demon in Moorabbin for assembly. 

After the test fight and signing of documents, the aircraft was released and Regional Director Graham Horne and I conducted the acceptance. This involved checking each item - the doors, the air con, the anti-ice, the EVS camera, etc - were all in tip top working order. This aircraft, an SR22T, was top spec, and very very exciting, not to mention luxurious, to fly.

After the acceptance flight to the training area, where a few minor issues were noted, we refuelled and prepared to return the aircraft to Air Gold Coast, with Graham dropping me off at Bankstown on the way.

As this aircraft is turbocharged, and fitted with oxygen, we climbed up to FL170 for the return leg. Check out our TAS at 17,000ft! The trip between Moorabbin and Bankstown took an incredible 2 hours and ten minutes!

The following weekend, I was back in Melbourne for Avia's Cirrus Life open day. The first perk of the job - other than the privilege of working for a progressive, forward thinking company with the best selling piston aircraft in the world - is travelling everywhere by Cirrus! I felt like a celebrity as I waiting at the Bankstown passenger terminal for Graham to arrive with Avia's new Australis -  (so new it's still in N reg - N9ZN). 

In the passenger seat was Graham's son and co-pilot Benjamin, who as a fine young gentlemen, slipped into the back so I could take over as co-pilot. Once more, we had a lightening IFR trip to Moorabbin, at a little over two hours and fifteen minutes, with Benjamin in the back listening to his own iPod, whilst Graham and I shared tunes in the front.

With the weather gods on our side, Avia GM Shannon Taylor - a professional chef - fired up the barbecue. No soggy old snags for Avia, though: Shannon prepared steak and salad for the Avia audience, who turned out to admire Avia's new Australis. AvPlan, Jacobson Flare and Wingmate presented seminars, while Avia CEO conducted tours of the facility including the state of the art six axis simulator. The day was an enormous success, as I experienced the fear and fun combo of giving my first on-the-ground demo.

Like all good things, it was over all too soon. However, my fine fortitude continued for the remainder of the day, as Graham and Benjamin were returning the aircraft to Ballina, with myself as lucky passenger as far as Bankstown. It was passed last light when we arrived, and I experienced the glory of the SR22 by night, where the massive 12 inch screens are really seen to their advantage. Graham demonstrated a superb night landing, before refuelling and heading straight off for Ballina, leaving me on the ground in an absolute whirl.

Three Cirruses in one week! It doesn't get better than that!