The First Step
Until now it was a very well kept (and slightly embarrassing) secret that the very first time I wanted to take to the skies was when I saw Luke Skywalker strafing the Death Star in his X-Wing.
As I grew up, I loved the feeling of taking off in the big jets: there was nothing better than gazing out at the sprawling landscapes just beneath the wingtip of a 747.
“This sure beats an office.” I would think to myself.
My grandfather used to tell the family how much he wanted one of his grandchildren to become a pilot as he watched the jets fly above his farmhouse. “That’s not what I meant…” he said, after hearing my news. Apparently the pilot in the family turning out to be a girl was not part of his plan.
From a little girl wanting to grow up to be an astronaut, to a teenager wanting to be a fighter pilot only to be told at the very old age of 17 that she was ‘too immature’ to join the Air Force by the recruiting officer, (consequently ending up crying to my friend- “Like, I am sooo not too immature!”) a commercial pilot seemed the next best thing.
My family, however, weren’t entirely as excited as I hoped they would be.
“Why can’t you do something that involves keeping your feet on the ground?” they would ask. “Like a doctor or a dentist?” But to me, spending most of my life in a building seemed the worst fate of all.
I wanted to get out and see the world, to travel, to have an exciting and respected career. I wanted to do something big with my life. I guess, to me, jetting around the world at 40,000 feet in some of the most advanced machines in the world whilst dressed in a stylish blue and gold suit was the golden ticket.
However, for a wannabe aviator pining for their wings, the flying world can seem like a long, fogged in, winding runway full of potholes.
Choosing a school coming from a background of absolutely zero exposure in the industry was exciting and confusing. I had no idea what I was looking for. No one in my circle of family and friends could help. Different schools held different opinions of the best way to go about things.
Was it the price? Was it the quality of the planes? Was it the location? The instructors? What was the most important factor upon which to base a decision?
In the end my wallet and my inherent lack of patience did the thinking for me. The school I chose, on paper, offered the same qualifications as others for a cheaper price. So I took the risk and hoped it would work out well: something I learnt very quickly was a big no-no in the world of aviation.
It wasn’t until after l chose my school and finalized the very generous initial fee installment, that everyone realized I was serious. That’s when the panic started to set in. Being the only girl in the family, my upbringing was quite sheltered and it is an understatement to say that my parents were quite insistent upon safety first.
“Your father and I have decided to buy you a parachute for Christmas.” She told me one day.
“No mum, they would all just laugh at me! Nobody wears them, there’s no point!” I tried to explain.
“This is not a fashion statement.” She would insist.
But what do you do if the plane starts uncontrollably plummeting to the ground and you don’t have a parachute? My family would always ask me that question and I would secretly hope that a well timed jump when the plane was metres off the ground would get me out of any sticky ‘plummeting to my death’ kind of situation.
I suppose a flying career was a difficult thing for an overprotective mother to accept, particularly considering she even refused to let me have glow in the dark stick-on stars on my bedroom ceiling when I was a child because, ‘the radiation will seep into your bones and kill you while you sleep.’ Discovering that her only daughter wanted to hurl herself into the sky in a giant metal cylinder almost gave her an embolism.
A few weeks later, with everything agreed upon and all the paperwork signed, the much anticipated first day of the rest of my career finally arrived.
I walked through the doors of the school, thrilled and carefree, filled with feelings of grandeur and thinking that surely, after three years of hard university study to satisfy my parent’s requirement for a ‘fallback’ career, whilst at the same time maintaining a casual job to save up my course funds, it must be smooth sailing from now on! Ha. That’s rather amusing in retrospect.
I was greeted by an older plump woman who exuded a faint odour of dog food and a young instructor who made me wonder if you could in fact get your pilot’s license before you were the legal age to ride a tricycle.
“Welcome to the school,” he said, as he picked at his acne, his voice managing to break two octaves higher during both ‘Wel’ and ‘to’.
I was given a neat parcel of a uniform and shown where to change, after which my newly appointed instructor led me through a series of rooms dedicated entirely to the preservation and conservation of incredibly cheap and tacky aviation memorabilia. Some of my favourites included plane models made out of exciting materials such as old pipe cleaners and drink cans, and the evil ‘aviation Santa’ swaying menacingly back and forth in his red baron, his red LED eyes pulsating as his worn out battery sang “Ho hooo hooowwwrr…”
Funnily enough, the thing that worried me most as I was led down a corridor was not the fact that my instructor, who would initially be responsible for my life, seemed to have a large cornflake lodged in the back of his hair, but rather the newly emerging fear that after all these years of hard work to get me through the doors of this place, maybe I wouldn’t be up to it? Will it be all that I thought it would be? At that moment I regretted not shelling out the extra couple of hundred dollars to go on a test flight. I guess I just had this image of me sitting behind the controls of an airbus ingrained into my head for so long, that not enjoying it or not being able to do it was simply not a realistic scenario in my head.
We arrived at the classroom at the end of the corridor and my instructor told me to find a seat whilst he got my reading material. The door was opened to reveal the dozen staring faces of adolescent boys. Through the haze of testosterone I spotted a brown haired girl at the very back and made a beeline towards the empty seat next to her. Soon after I sat down, my instructor returned.
“These are your books.” he said, slamming down three giant green and white folders, each I could have sworn was half a metre thick, on my desk. My eyes widened in disbelief. But there was more to come.
“Now here are your seven textbooks for your CPL subject, here is your ERSA, your plane manual, your course folder, your…”
As I peered at my instructor through the small gap created by something macabre looking called the CAOs, and another ridiculously large binder which I seriously doubted would fit into my car, a thought started gnawing at the back of my mind.
“What on earth have I gotten myself into?