Born to Fly
For some, following the same career path as siblings or parents can be a daunting task. But for helicopter pilot Johanna Osborne, doing so was a natural progression.
Born in Batlow, NSW but bred 120 or so clicks up the road in Cootamundra, 39-year-old Jo Osborne has been surrounded by aviation her entire life. Her dad Col is an Ag pilot and owner of Col Adams Aerial Services, a Cootamundra-based business that specialises in aerial crop dusting and spraying; while brother Scott, 41, is also a crop-duster who works in the family business.
The Osborne’s have been involved in aviation for almost 50 years and in that time, they’ve logged 44,000 hours between them, an impressive number for one family. So with Col and Scott setting the example, pursuing an aviation career was always going to have some appeal to young Jo. Unlike the boys however, she wasn’t interested in flying aeroplanes; it was helicopters that captured her imagination.
“I have always wanted to fly, it’s in the blood, but I wanted something different from the boys,” Jo tells Aviator. “When I was little I remember seeing a helicopter doing pirouettes down the grass strip at Coota and said to myself, ‘one day I’m going to do that’. Now I can.”
Since acing her commercial licence 13 years ago, Jo’s aviation journey has taken her around Australia to places such as Ayers Rock; Cairns; the Gold Coast and Caloundra; where she has worked for a variety of companies in charter, safari tours and instructing. Now an established Grade One Instructor and charter pilot at Airways Aviation on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland, Jo loves her job and the challenges that go with it.
“As an instructor you need to be patient, articulate, and remember you were once in the student’s shoes,” she explains. “A good instructor has the ability to get results from even the hardest of students. Not everyone is meant to fly but those people are easy to see. It’s the ones that you know have got it but just need to find it. They are the ones to crack and a good instructor can do that. A good instructor has lots of ‘tools’ to get through to a student and can use them well.”
Instructing has always been seen as a stepping stone into an aviation career but expectations and the pressure to perform can be just as vigorous as those in the so-called higher echelons of the rotary profession. For instance, students completing an instructor rating graduate within a relatively short time frame but are then expected to be good educators, an expectation that Jo believes is unrealistic.
“You are expected to be a good educator, just like a teacher who does four years at uni,” Jo says. “I believe there needs to be greater emphasis on teaching the instructor to educate, not just instruct. Instructors need more chances to observe other senior instructors teaching and then be observed themselves. Unfortunately, the industry runs on a tight breadline and there is often not enough time or money to accommodate this.”
So what gives Jo the most satisfaction about instructing?
“The Smiles … the smile from students when they finally get it … when they realise that a day ago they couldn’t hover but now they’ve done it. Or, that half terrified and disbelieving smile when they realise that they’ve just landed on their first solo circuit!! It’s fantastic. Even better than that is getting a student from nothing to being a solid pilot who can confidently step into a flying roll.”
As mentioned, Jo also flies charter, a bonus that mixes things up and keeps life interesting. But regardless of whether she’s teaching students the art of flight or transporting a corporate client to an important business meeting, being professional and setting high standards is mandatory.
“For me a good charter pilot is one who thinks ahead,” Jo says. “They have good preparation and planning skills, know where to get information quickly and have simple short cuts on hand like fuel and payload calculations for when things start to get hectic. Above all they have to be prepared to be dynamic because charter operations rarely go to plan.”
Jo’s experience as a charter pilot is wide and varied; she has transported technicians and other company personnel to the most remote parts of north Queensland; hunted for crocodile nests, lit fires, and been part of the clean-up crew after cyclones. As a charter pilot at Airways Aviation, she tends to do more weddings and transfers of celebrities. “Not as rugged,” she laughs, “but it keeps us entertained.”
After instructing for so long, Jo appreciates the freedom and dynamics of charter work, especially the opportunity to fly PIC and to make decisions on the run. “I love the challenge of the changes that get called through,” she says. “I especially love working with good crew that have a job to do. I do my job so they can do theirs and you become part of a team.”
Airways Aviation’s sterling reputation as a provider of blue chip pilot training, scenic flights and private charter is impressive. Needless to say, expectations on employees, including pilots, are high. “You need strive to be bloody good at what you do,” she says. “We have a mission to not just be instructors but to be educators. You also need to have vision. Airways Aviation is not just a training school; it is owned and run now by people who have been immersed in university level education for over three decades. Their vision for us is global aviation education with pathways for good up-and-coming pilots to find careers. I’m really proud to be a part of it.”
When asked what advice she would give to youngsters looking to get into this type of flying, Jo replies: “Pilots need to realise that their flying ability is about third down the list of what employers look for. You need to be a people person and a team player and willing to help out like it was your own company. Then you need to be a rock solid pilot. I have always echoed my dad’s thoughts on a good pilot and that is to fly like you are being watched. It takes a second to be branded a cowboy and a lifetime to get rid of it. Best not get branded in the first place! My addition to that is to be prepared as if you’re about to undergo a ramp check.”
Jo would love nothing more than to follow in her dad’s footsteps. Now 67, Col has been in the game for 42 years, but he’s not too keen on seeing his baby girl tread the same path that he has. Jo is also curious about powerline work, but husband Adam, a transmission linesman with Powerlink, is uneasy about seeing his wife in what can often be a dangerous environment.
“The two heroes in my life are my dad, who won’t let me do Ag and my husband Adam, a transmission linesman, who won’t let me do powerline work,” Jo says. “The irony is I’m now doing instructing which some people would argue is equally dangerous and challenging work!”
But deep down, Jo’s not too concerned. As the mum of two wee boys, Sam, 3 and two-year-old Charlie, she appreciates that her current job is ideal. Not only does it provide enjoyment and professional stimulation, but it also enables her to be at home every night for her children, making her a very happy woman. Throw in the lifestyle component that goes with living in one of the most beautiful parts of the world and some would say that Jo Osborne is living the dream. Way to go Jo.
Name: Johanna Osborne
Marital Status: Married to Adam
Children: Sam, 3; Charlie, 2
Job Title: Helicopter Instructor (G1), Airways Aviation
Flying Hours: 5,010