it began when i was 5 years old
Being herded down a long dark corridor. That corridor was actually a jumbo jet, it was night-time and I remember the aisle went orever. How is this massive submarine shaped thing going to fly? And then the engines started. I was transfixed staring out of my transparent porthole.
Somehow this behemoth started moving and within just a couple of minutes, I felt the roar of 4 Pratt and Whitney jet ngines as we thundered down the runway.Creaking and vibrating and within seconds, we were airborne. Was it the speed, the power or just the magic of flight? Well I don’t know, probably all three. It was 30 minutes before I looked back inside. I was hooked. That was it, I wanted to be a pilot.
At the age of 14
I was invited by my father (a wholesaler) to attend the local aero club as he said he had to see a man about a dog and he knew I was very interested in anything aviation. It was a small country airfield and there weren’t many people around. When we got there he asked one of the pilots for approval and threw me a set of keys to a red Cessna 150 and said, ‘Go and have a look at that one, but don’t touch anything!’.
My eyes lit up. I skipped straight over to the aircraft and sat in the pilot’s seat. I had barely had a chance to look around when my old man jumped in and said, ‘He just wants me to taxi it over there’. ‘Do you know what you are doing?’ I said. There was no answer, electrics, fuel, start and we were moving. Suddenly he powered up, swung left onto the runway and within 15 seconds we were airborne. I sat frozen in my seat, saying nothing when he calmly replied that he had been practicing privately just for this moment – to take his son flying! What a buzz! Now I know why he had to see so many blokes about all those dogs.
At the age of 17
I was studying all the right subjects at school and working hard to obtain the best scores for pilot entry. I saw an ad in the paper to attend my local RAAF base as they were having an air show. Naturally my parents obliged.
I will never forget that day. Whilst we were queued in our car to get in to the RAAF base, a Mirage Fighter jet flew over our car at about 100 feet with full burner. The whole car shook. I knew that that’s what I wanted to do – become a military pilot. I asked to walk the rest of the way, so I didn’t miss any of the flying.
I was inspired both by my father taking me flying and my grandfather who was in 1 Squadron in the RAAF in WWII. I didn’t want to let either of them down. I applied as soon as I was eligible via the Defence Force Recruiting Centre.
I followed the recruiting process bouncing ball, did well in the aptitude testing and was offered a position in the RAAF. I then attended formal entry into the RAAF day. My first day in the RAAF, or so I thought.
It requires dogged determination to never lose sight of the goal. For me it was to pass pilot’s course. This was the key to open a plethora of opportunities. A set of Wings or ‘fun tickets’ meant the potential for a long and successful Airforce career. But I was a long way from that on day 1 of a 3- year degree at ADFA (Australian Defence Force Academy). Studying such subjects as integral transforms and asymptotics and advanced electromagnetism seemed unrelated to roaring around in an Air Force fighter.
However, these were essential stepping stones and had to be mastered as any trip ups at ADFA may preclude the chance for pilot’s course. This daily grind together with being outnumbered by non-pilot candidates and Army cadets meant that to succeed, I had to constantly focus on the prize. At ADFA you had to thrive not just survive.
Everyone was herded into a room with flags and
Defence Force Officers standing around, except me. Eventually I was told that I had a medical condition that precluded entry as a pilot and would I like to be ATC. It was all a big mistake, they said.
Instead of becoming emotional, I calmly requested a second doctor’s opinion as this small administrative action could prevent the termination of a potentially long air force career right there and then. This was granted and as luck would have it, passed with no issues and I joined my course buddies as a cadet pilot in the RAAF. Now the hard work really started.
And so it began..
It wasn’t long before progress was being made. I was becoming tertiary educated and learning to become a military officer and leader and getting paid for it. How cool? Within 3 months I was participating in a Chief of Defence Force Parade marching around in full regalia in front of my parents. I was being challenged physically and on occasions mentally, but my eye was on the goal and that never wavered. What helped me was having a cockpit picture in my room which I could see every day.
It wasn’t long before I was on Pilot’s Course to face yet more challenges. Here’s one of them. It was near the end of BFTS, the second last mission in fact. I thought it was a satisfactory flight, being the one before my BHT (Basic Handling Test which needed to be passed to graduate from BFTS). Unfortunately my QFI didn’t think so and he pulled apart my handling of a basic emergency in the debrief. I had made some errors that I was unaware of.
He said that whilst I handled the actual emergency actions ok, I flew out of the area by 1.5 nm and that if this were the test, I would have failed it. He gave me a marginal score. I didn’t even know that I had done it. Next thing you know, I had to sign a form acknowledging that if I failed my next sortie, the BHT, I might not get a second go and that could be it. Scrubbed. Instead of dwelling on it and allowing that thought to fester, I chilled out firstly with a vigorous run listening to some tunes. I tried to remain strong and I said to myself that this would not beat me.
I reflew the mission in my chair twice, applying appropriate suggested corrections and reinforcing muscle memory, and prepped very hard for my test using my Slam book (daily flying related diary). I went in positive and confident. I had not failed any of my 45 flights to date and this wasn’t going to be the first. I flew quite well. The QFI commented that I was well prepared and keen so he passed me.
My first mission
On graduation and receiving my wings, I was posted directly to the No. 34 VIP Squadron in Canberra
flying government ministers and other VIP’s around the world.
After a two month conversion, I was in the right hand seat of one of these jet aircraft with 250 hours grand
total in my logbook. It was a steep learning curve, but Pilot’s Course prepared me well.
That trip I really began to see why they demand such a high standard on Pilot’sCourse. There are some trips with minimal notice, which is fairly typical when dealing with VIP’s. We worked on any day of the week at any hour, but it was a fun life – learning a lot and quickly, 5 star hotels, international travel and getting paid well for it.
My first ‘no duff’ (real) mission after completing
conversion was with the PM and his entourage. It was a 10 day trip all over NSW and QLD often flown in poor weather and under a strict timetable. We really got to know him and I remember him calling me by my first name.
“I was living the dream!”