As a seasoned private pilot with more than 1,000 flying hours logged and endorsed in various light twins and singles, I often think back to the beginning of my flying journey.
Back then, my husband and I and our two boys, aged 12 and 13, moved to a small country town seeking a lifestyle change. Hubby had been made redundant and received a tidy lump sum, which enabled us to chuck in the city life and take the plunge on something different.
On arrival in our new home I met our neighbour Elsie, a vibrant, energetic and elegant woman whose husband had passed away about eighteen months before we moved in. With adult kids and no ties she decided she needed a challenge to fill in some time. Flying fitted the bill perfectly. Elsie signed up at the local aerodrome and began a journey that continues to this day. She struggled through her theory subjects but her diligence (and keen intellect) earned her passes in the BAK and PPL theory. She went solo and achieved her GFPT. She flew navs and finally, she passed her PPL. All at the age of sixty! Amazing huh.
But even more amazing is the fact that Elsie got “me” hooked on flying too. Amazing because I was never a fan of aeroplanes. Flying in a jumbo jet scared the daylights out of me so the thought of jumping into a small tube capable of seating just four people didn’t register. It was simply ridiculous. I thought to myself, this woman must be stark raving mad. But in time we developed a close friendship and as we chatted over a cuppa or over the back fence she often mentioned flying. She’d tell me about the wonderful friends she’d made and how the challenge of being a pilot had given her a new lease of life and so many opportunities to see this vast continent of ours from a rare and beautiful perspective. It was all interesting stuff and the lady had so much energy and drive to lead a full life revolving around aviation that I found her inspiring.
Then one day Elsie convinced me to join her on a short hop across the state to attend a meeting. After turning her down a couple of times I bit the bullet and thought: “Well, I can’t be too rude” and off we went. After returning to terra firma I thought to myself: “Gee, this flying caper isn’t too bad”. I went on another trip, then another and decided to make some enquiries about learning to fly.
My husband had for some time been encouraging me to find a hobby because he felt that I needed stimulation away from the daily routine of providing a taxi service for the kids and running my home book-keeping business. I agreed wholeheartedly and, feeling pleased with myself, announced my news to the boys. Their response was typical: “But mum, you can barely drive a car so how can you possibly fly a plane?!” Followed by raucous laughter. 12 and 13-year-old boys can be so detestable.
But I ignored their taunts and with Elsie, drove to the aerodrome the very next day. Thankfully I have a logical mind – numbers and basic science come easy – which assisted me during my theory training. The practical side however, almost proved to be my Achilles heel. I started off well but I probably set a record for the number of training circuits – that damn Warrior just kept getting ahead of me and by the time I was turning onto finals I was still finishing my downwind checks. But one day it all clicked and the rest they say, is history. I went solo. Passed my GFPT (even convinced my two terrors to join me for a spin to the training area – they even said: “Cool mum!”) and earned my private licence, which gave me such a tremendous sense of accomplishment.
As a family we’ve flown around Australia and enjoyed some wonderful experiences. Australia is a beautiful country and absoutely spectacular from the air. I just love being up in the air. It gives me a sense of freedom unattainable in any other way. I also love the feeling of having got something completely right – a technically perfect flight, efficient, comfortable and procedurally correct, which I must admit, is uncommon.
Moving to the country all those years ago and meeting such a remarkable lady as Elsie has been a godsend. Even though we’re separated by 25 years in age she remains one of my very best friends. She taught me so many things about living life to the full and through flying, moving beyond my comfort zone. Thanks to her encouragement, I discovered that there’s a big wide world out there just waiting to be explored.