The Pilot's Blog of Aviation has taken off!

Owen Zupp - Thursday, July 17, 2014
The Pilot's Blog has taken off!






Hi All,

Thanks for your support over recent years.

It has become so strong that I have decided to launch a new pilot's blog dedicated to a range of aviation topics.

If you're learning to fly, yearning to fly, or just want to brush up on the basics. Whether you're a reluctant passenger, or would like to know more from the world of aviation, please hop across to 'The Pilot's Blog'.

It is the friendly aviation blog with something for everybody.

Cheers,

Owen




50 More Tales of Flight

Owen Zupp - Friday, June 27, 2014
50 More Tales of Flight!




Following the success of '50 Tales of Flight', I have released '50 More Tales of Flight'.






Airbus A350 XWB in formation with Rafale fighter.

Owen Zupp - Friday, June 27, 2014
Airbus A350 XWB in formation with Rafale fighter.





A shot that I recently took of a Rafale fighter from an Airbus A350 XWB.




Check out '50 More Tales of Flight' HERE!

Flying Wings Over Texas

Owen Zupp - Saturday, April 12, 2014
Image:Dean Muskett

Flying Wings Over Texas.


By Owen Zupp


Hi All...Just before I start today's blog, I'd like to announce that ''50 Tales of Flight' is now available in print form. For the first 7 days it is available on Amazon at only $9.99. CLICK HERE At the end of the 7 days, I'll delete this text and link...now, back to the blog.


Recently something strange was seen high over Texas. Size and speed unknown, the small delta-shaped craft was pulling a contrail in the blue skies above. Immediately the world was abuzz with speculation of a new advanced aircraft type and the true purpose behind the legendary ‘Area 51’. Was this the next step forward in aircraft design?

Such sightings are nothing new as test flying of revolutionary designs has been going on for decades. The fact that so much flying has taken place beyond prying eyes is probably a more intriguing phenomenon. Remember the clandestine night raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound and the revelation of the stealth Blackhawk helicopter? Had that helicopter not crashed would we know of its existence? Even now, very little is known publicly about its true form and capabilities.

Edwards Air Force Base in California has traditionally been the home to the men and machines pushing the edge of the envelope. It was here that Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in 1947 and saw the numerous X-Planes that flew ever higher and faster. It was home to the ‘best of the best’ from which the first astronauts were mustered. The aircraft took on all forms from the bullet-like Bell X-1 to the striking, but ill-fated, XB-70 Valkyrie.

In such a world, tragedy was no stranger. There were not the computer ‘models’ of aircraft performance that can be digitally generated in the modern age. The limits could only be found by flying the test aircraft ever-closer to the edge until it bent, broke or hopefully survived. The street names at Edwards are silent testimony to those that lost their lives in pursuit of the sky’s unknown boundaries.



The YB-49 'Flying Wing'.


The base itself is named after Captain Glen Edwards. A veteran of World War Two, he became a test pilot only to lose his life away from the battle-front in post-war America. He was testing the Northrop YB-49 ‘Flying Wing’ when it broke up in flight, killing all on board. Developed from a piston-engined counterpart, the YB-49 was pushed along by 8 jet engines. Still, the concept of the tailless aircraft had been around for a good many years and a good many nations.

One forerunner to the YB-49 had been a one-third scale, 60-foot span flying wing. Designated the N-9M, it was also from Jack Northrop’s, although this smaller, single-seat version was powered by two piston engines. An example of the type still flies at Chino, California and its canary yellow form in flight is something to behold.



Northrop N-9M. Image: Planes of Fame.


And while the YB-49 faded into history with only a handful ever being built, the concept was far from forgotten. The flying wing’s tailless low profile form lent itself to the new world of stealth technology that was emerging in the 1980s. The ability to successfully strike a target was no longer simply a function of speed and/or altitude in a world of increasingly sophisticated weapons and defence systems. Evading detection became the new priority to reintroduce the element of surprise in a world of radar and to protect the valuable ‘asset’ and its crew.

The new age also brought new control systems that could counter some of the concerns relating to the YB-49 and the ‘Flying Wing’ grew into the aircraft we now know as the B-2 ‘Spirit’ stealth bomber. Developed over a decade, secrecy had once again been a key element in the B-2 program. The B-2 employed a number of new technologies beyond its low radar profile, ranging from suppressed engine exhausts to a range of lightweight, stealthy materials.



Contrails Over Texas. Image: Steve Douglass

Now we have the ‘mystery’ aircraft sighted over Texas. Suspicions are that the aircraft is manned and that it was in company with two other aircraft. Other than that, nothing is really known of the type. Given the extensive security measures that surrounded the B-2 development in the 1980s, there is nothing to suggest that this new aircraft hasn’t also stayed beneath the public ‘radar’. What it does demonstrate clearly is that the pursuit of new technologies marches on.

Certainly the computer aided development of new designs has increased in great measures, but still there is the need for the ‘real thing’ to be flown. Consequently, when the slide rules are laid down, someone still needs to strap into the secretive cockpits and take these aircraft into the skies. It is the only way to truly ratify the projected performance and discover the quirks that were not anticipated in the computer model. When this happens, a pilot is still needed to observe and counter the variation away from the forecast flight profile.

A good deal more is now known about both aircraft design and the environment that aircraft operate in. The ‘sound barrier’ is no longer a wall in the air where good aeroplanes go to die; crushed by mysterious forces. Better informed, the battle is now to be smarter and stealthier and generally within the predefined limits that were discovered with the blood and sweat of test pilots from the 1940s onwards. Still, whenever there is an unknown, there is a risk and test flying will never be a ‘simple’ process.

I suspect in time we will learn of the aircraft over Amarillo, Texas. It will grow from secrecy, to ‘Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft’ and ultimately appear on the air show circuit, though not any time soon. And even when that occurs it will still hold a good number of secrets close to its chest. For the moment, the triangular speck and its contrail will remain a mystery, although it is a tangible reminder that progress never ceases. In aviation, there will always be some entity looking for a new edge and taking the limits just that bit further. The spirit of Captain Glen Edwards and his comrades lives on.


Fly safe.
                                                                 


Goodbye Mum.

Owen Zupp - Thursday, March 27, 2014


Goodbye Mum.


By Owen Zupp




The end was as peaceful as you could imagine. After ninety years on this earth her time had come and she seemed content to go. As she would say, “To reunite with those that had gone before”. And she had seen her share of loss.

Raised to a rural backdrop of green paddocks and livestock, she was of a generation whose youth was torn apart by war. As soon as they could shave, her school friends became soldiers, sailors and aircrew, fighting in conflicts across the globe. Yet she would often reflect in later years how they were much simpler times.

Those simpler times took the life of her first love in a bomber over a target in Germany. Then her fiancé perished in flames, crashing into the jungles of New Guinea only weeks before her wedding day. That April, instead of walking down the aisle, she stood in the rain at the war memorial with tears running down her face.

She too had served in World War Two as an air force radar operator; one of the ‘Hush Hush’ girls. She had also worked beneath the streets of Sydney in a plotting room. She was on the first course of peace-time females in the air force, or  'WRAAFs'. It was then that she met another RAAF pilot, on his way to Korea, but this time her luck held and he returned intact.

Together they raised three children and as I sat holding Mum’s hand that last time, that was the most memorable of her achievements. She wasn’t on committees and never pursued hobbies to any degree, she dedicated her life to us; her kids. As a child I recall her tucking me in with her customary, “Sleep Tight”. Holding my hand as we’d walk to school and working as a volunteer in the library. Cooking pikelets for church stalls and washing football uniforms for our local club. Standing on sidelines, or sitting in audiences, she never missed a significant event in our lives. When I was older and training each morning at 5am, Mum had already risen and sent me on my way.

Even as adults, her children were the focus of her attention and the source of her pride. And at times, her frustration I suspect. Regardless of the situation, she was always there. In fact, as I reflect upon my Mum, she was the greatest constant my life has known. She has quite literally always been there. Often in the background, but she was there.

And when her children had children, the cycle of love and pride started once more. As she makes her final journey I cannot help but feel a deep sense of loss, not sadness, but loss. Like one of the pillars upon which a house was built has now been taken away. The house will continue to stand, but it is a little weakened and even a little rocky until the foundations settle once again.

Perhaps the greatest difficulty was looking into my children’s eyes and telling them that Nanna had gone. Later I found my eldest daughter quietly reading one of Nanna’s many letters. Down the hall her sister had glued a photo to the wall with a poem she had written, “Nanna You Will Always Be in my Heart”. Then as I sat down for dinner, my third daughter had made a placemat that simply stated “Bye Nanna” and was adorned with a million stars.

Their beautiful acts were the only time the toughened constitution of this former paramedic was challenged. Even in their loss, their young thoughts were of hope and of the Nanna they had loved. Death had taken my mother’s body, but her love was alive in my children as strong as it had ever been. Knowing what I know, I should never have been surprised by this

Goodbye Mum.

Sleep tight.



                                                                 



Pearl Harbor Skies

Owen Zupp - Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Pearl Harbor Skies.


By Owen Zupp



Parachute on and strapped in low and tight. The World War Two vintage T-6 is set to take to the skies and so am I. Everything about the aircraft around me breathes an air of safe passage and security, from the girder-like framework that envelopes me to the sizeable North American rudder pedals ahead.

As the throttle is smoothly opened the radial engine lets out a throaty roar and the two propeller blades blur into a single disc. Soon the tail rises and before me lies the black strip of runway and the historic setting of Pearl Harbour. The wheels now leave the ground, the toe brakes are touched and the landing gear folds up cosily into the wings. We are underway.

A wartime hangar passes beneath as we roll left and set course to the north with the famous harbour out to my right. I am flying past places that had been carved into my brain through teachings, textbooks and the occasional Hollywood blockbuster. Places that had burned on the "day of infamy"; December 7th 1941. The day when the Japanese had struck at the heart of the United States Navy and set in motion the Pacific War.

Wheeler Field where the P-40 Warhawks had been ablaze and lesser known coral runways now reclaimed by the vegetation. Runways where a valiant few had launched to battle the might of the Japanese as they made their two waves of attacks on the island of Oahu. The site of the radar station that had first detected the inbound armada of the skies and the beach where a midget submarine had been dragged on shore.

One by one the historic waypoints slide beneath the canary yellow wings of the T-6, set to a backdrop of pristine waters, lush green valleys and jutting igneous ridge lines born of a volcanic past. Such a setting seems to be so at odds with the devastation that took place that December morning over 70 years ago.





Still, as I sit beneath the greenhouse-style canopy with the barest of instrumentation in front of me there is a sense of that time. As I wheel to the left and right I am struck by the reality that these were the same parcels of space through which the Japanese fighters and bombers had passed enroute to their targets.

We slip between two jagged peaks to emerge with Waikiki to the distance on our left and Pearl Harbour straight ahead. Ford Island with its orange and white striped control tower looms large as does the massive battleship Missouri at anchor and watching over the sunken USS Arizona. The Arizona with its more than 1,000 souls still at rest beneath the waves.

I am struck by a mix of solemnity for those lost lives and awareness of how chaotic the skies must have been on that day. For the sky over Pearl Harbour is a relatively small patch of air, yet it must have been brimming with the swirling mass of attacking aircraft. In my mind's eye I can see the USS Nevada making its failed dash for the open seas and almost smell the rising funnels of black smoke. The noise must have been deafening on land, sea and in the air.

But in the present the skies are clear and blue and the only sound is the rhythmic, reliable hum of the T-6's engine. There is hardly a ripple in the air and the magic of flight is at its very best. The here-and-now is in conflict with the history, however the outline of the USS Arizona can still be seen as I pass overhead and prevents any chance of being solely lost in the moment. Nor should I, as this is a site of solemn significance.

The wheels touch down once more and the blurred disc again becomes two stationary propeller blades. I slide the canopy back, with my harness and headset still in place. Leaning my head back all I can see is the blue sky, bordered by the framework of the 1940s cockpit. That same piece of sky, but in such a very different time.

Fly safe.
                                                                 


When a Pilot Takes his Life...

Owen Zupp - Friday, March 14, 2014




When a Pilot Takes his Life...

By Owen Zupp



It’s kind of numbing. A news story about a familiar face for all of the wrong reasons. The mind flicks back to other times when that face wasn’t frozen in a photograph, but laughing at some borderline joke in happier times. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that a fellow pilot has taken their own life.

When my old airline failed, two faces that I’d shared a flight deck with did not survive to build their career or a new life. For reasons known unto only them, a sad and lonely end was the only option that they perceived to be left on the table. Still my memory is of one leaning out of the window of a 737 waving merrily at his family in the terminal. The other is doing an incredibly good impersonation of a lead singer from a renowned rock band. That is how they will stay with me forever.

Yet for all their inner conflict, these pilots remained absolutely focused when they flew. Perhaps that is one of the qualities of a 'good pilot'; the ability to attend to the task at hand despite any other pressures that might exist. I saw this same quality in my time as a paramedic and unfortunately a number of those magnificent people could not find a way forward either. It is an admirable professional quality, but at a high cost to some individuals.

Pilots are task-focused and derive satisfaction from completion and progression. When the spectre of a failing airline or a stalled career raises its head it flies in the face of everything that has been striven for. Still, the matter is much more complex and beyond the grasp of someone like me. From where I sat, my mates had other issues to contend with outside of the workplace and I’ve always thought that the airline’s collapse was a possible contributor rather than an outright cause.

Unfortunately there are no non-normal checklists for life’s adversity. That very quality that strives for a sense of command and focus on the flight deck doesn’t necessarily translate into everyday life. That is not a failing; it’s just the human condition. If that battle gets tough, PLEASE reach out to somebody and let them know; someone who may be able to offer support and another perspective. Please.

My memories will always be of my friends in happier times, but I wish with all of my heart that they weren’t just memories.

Rest in Peace Andrew. Clear skies mate.


For help, contact....
'Beyond Blue'




                                                                 


Unforgiving. Thoughts on Aviation Tragedies.

Owen Zupp - Friday, March 14, 2014




Unforgiving.


By Owen Zupp

An excerpt from '50 Tales of Flight'




The fate of Malaysia Airlines MH370 is still unknown. Each time an aircraft goes missing with one soul or hundreds on board it rekindles thoughts on the potentially unforgiving nature of aviation. In the stratosphere we can truly be at the mercy of man, machine and Mother Nature. For MH370, we're still wondering which of these players dealt a deadly hand.....


The news comes all too frequently.  While Malaysia Airlines MH370 is still missing it has stirred memories of a another tragic week when aviation was also filled with heart-breaking loss. The loss of the two Albatross aircraft dealt a single massive blow and a series of accidents in just a few days further added to the count. The national broadcaster’s senior helicopter pilot and crew were lost, just as the news of an ill-fated mercy flight filtered down the wire. Only hours later, a senior sports pilot and his passenger went missing with a fatal outcome. The terrible loss of life in New Zealand when a hot air balloon was destroyed and a Tiger Moth crash saw the passing of John Fisher; a man who had once flown his Tiger from the United Kingdom to raise funds for charity. In the cruelest manner, it seemed we were all reminded that tragedy is the ever-present companion in the skies we seek to transit.

As the son of a former combat fighter pilot, I had grown up around the potentially fatal nature of aviation. As I flicked enthusiastically through fading photographs of fast jets, my father would answer my questions in an even tone. Often my enquiries with reference to the pilots was met with, “He got killed by ground fire near Haeju”, or “I think he put a Mirage in off the coast during a training exercise”. Their young faces beneath flying helmets still stare back at me so many years later.
My own first encounter with the harsh lessons of aviation started as a student pilot. Still a paramedic by trade, I stood at the Royal Aero Club counter as the crash horn sounded and the ominous black, oily plume rose from beyond the runway’s end. Off duty, I drove my car the short distance around the airfield perimeter and entered the factory where the Piper Cherokee Six had plunged vertically through the roof. One burnt survivor has been thrown onto the rooftop, while I dragged another from the smoke-filled building. Four remained in the wreck, still strapped into their seats; lifeless. Any complacency about aviation that youth may have been tempted to bestow upon me was banished at that very moment.

In the losses of recent times, as is so often the case, there are not necessarily any common themes. Each was in a different type of aircraft, with the weather varying from despicable to fine and clear. The pilots ranged vastly in experience and their operations covered the spectrum from private flying to commercial aviation. The only shared trait seemed to be the tragic outcome.

I read through the various news reports with a strong dose of suspicion, borne of decades reading of ill-informed, sensationalist reporting. Details seemed to change by the hour and rumours took on the status of fact until the next piece of hearsay could be generated in the public domain. What could not be disputed was the life-altering impact of these accidents upon so many. To such a backdrop, one by one I recalled the faces of those that I had seen lost at the brutal edge of aviation. As I penned each name, the sobering truth was rammed home to me; no one is immune.

The list of names was far longer than I had anticipated. They ranged from pilots with whom I had shared a meal and conversation, to close friends and work colleagues. Nearly all of them were commercial pilots eking out a living in general aviation, though some had also been lost pursuing their passion just for the love of it. Some were starting their journey, excited at their first gainful employment and some were experienced mentors in the service of the nation’s aviation regulator.
One by one I recalled their faces. The ‘old hand’ Bill whose ultimate oversight in forty years of safe flying was not spotting the glider that sheared off his Bonanza’s tailplane. And Brinley, celebrating at the local restaurant at the news he’d secured a position with the national carrier only to perish nights later, circling into a black hole in rural Australia in the foulest of weather. Trevor, whose single-engined fish spotting aircraft had force landed at dusk into the frigid waters, only to survive the impact, but not the swim to shore. Mark, who’d tried one too many hair-raising flying feats at too low an altitude, only to pancake into the rising terrain. Alan and Peter, who had been searching for another aeroplane when their own Cessna’s engine had failed over inhospitable terrain. Fernando, who descended gently into the ground in the wee hours with a full load in his Baron. My fellow freight pilots who had been lost within a couple of months in a bleak, wet winter of low cloud and icing levels.On and on the list continued as face after face stared back at me.

Admittedly, there were those who had been sticking their neck out further than the rules and common sense would advise. But for most it was simply a case of the odds stacking up against them in a series a compounding smaller events; the classic ‘Swiss Cheese’ model of Dr. James Reason. For a few it was the simple bad luck scenario of wrong place-wrong time. Universally, however, they are all still with me; even though I had not thought of many of them in recent years. They are with me every day. They are with me as I flight plan and as I retract the landing gear. They are with me as the day becomes night and as the weather turns dark and walls of water confront me. They are with me always.

They are not evil spectres awaiting my demise, they are those who have gone before and paid the ultimate price. They paid for their harsh lessons with their lives and I am now the benefactor of their loss. In many ways, I owe them for the joy I have experienced in the skies above. They may have gone before, but they have stayed behind to tell me when enough is enough and when danger is lurking. They are there when the hair stands up on the back of my neck. They level the playing field and stand on the kerb whenever the temptation to cut a corner may exist.

They were acquaintances, colleagues and close friends who lived and breathed for aviation. I count myself as fortunate to have thus far safely encountered my way, but this is not an automatic right. It requires an ongoing commitment to safety and discipline at all times and anything less is to dishonour those who have sacrificed so much. We call the skies our home and it is not a dangerous place to encounter. However, as those who have been lost recently and in the distant past can attest, aviation can be very unforgiving.


Fly Safe.

An excerpt from '50 Tales of Flight'


                                                                 


Malaysia Airlines MH370. Into Thin Air?

Owen Zupp - Wednesday, March 12, 2014




Malaysia Airlines MH370. Into Thin Air?


By Owen Zupp



As I write these words, there is still no trace of the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, flight MH370. By contrast, the level of speculation and the range of theories know no bounds. The usual suspects of terrorism, catastrophic failure and hijacking have appeared in print beside theories as extreme as UFO abduction. It's all hearsay and guesswork; but I suppose the media can’t sell advertising on an empty page.

MH370 is not the first, nor will it be the last, sizeable aircraft to go ‘missing’. There has been a Boeing 727, 707 and Lockheed Constellation that have vanished from the face of the earth and even Air France 447 was ‘whereabouts unknown’ for a good period of time before some debris was located. This is just an abbreviated list.

The fact remains that it is a big sky and a big planet. Even when a search area can been positively defined, the ability to find a needle in a haystack is no mean feat. A good number of aerial searches in the past have had to make numerous sweeps over the very same area before any tell-tale signs of wreckage have been found. In the case of MH370, its precise tracking details are still a point of conjecture as it appears to have left its planned flight route. This complicates the task even further.

In an era of ‘smart phones’ and reality TV, everyone seems to want the inside information and an answer now. Patience has gone and the quick fix is close enough it seems. The truth is that there are no answers to be found regarding MH370 at this stage. The investigators are undoubtedly doing their utmost to examine the few details they have to piece together a starting point, while any resolutions are still a long way off.

Aviation in both its execution and its subsequent investigations prides itself on  methodology. Measured responses and practical solutions are the order of the day and the aircrew or investigator that rushes in does so at their own peril. It is understandable that families need answers and aviation bodies want facts to shape future plans, purchases and policies. However, jumping to conclusions serves no-one in the short or long term.

All that is truly known is that a large aircraft established in cruise flight has experienced an event and now it cannot be found. The nature of that event is unknown, but the fact that the crew were possibly over a dark ocean in the middle of a dark night would have brought all manner of additional factors into play. For the moment, all other details are subject to investigation.

Not yet a week has passed since the disappearance of MH370 over patches of sea and jungles that have kept secrets for centuries. Still the mainstream media yearns for a juicy detail or the latest theory, often selling it as if it were virtually fact. They are straining to keep the story on the front page, but how long can they last. If the search creeps into weeks, will their resources remain focused on the story when there is celebrity news breaking from Hollywood?

A few hard core professional reporters will undoubtedly remain, but I suspect the rest will fade to sporadic updates until something of substance is found. And then the circus will come back to town and want immediate answers and big headlines once again. All the while the aviation professionals tasked with uncovering the real truths will continue to work away, poring over data and endeavouring to draw conclusions from threads of information. These individuals are in it for the long haul to enhance aviation safety. The mainstream media is a caffeine shot.

For all concerned, I hope that the wreckage and its ‘black boxes’ are located sooner rather than later. Then we will be able to gather the facts and begin to fill in the sentences. Then those same facts can be used to build a better future. Aviation is an industry built on lessons from the past, with a good many regulations written in the blood of those that have gone before. Unfounded speculation sells newspapers, TV time slots and little more. Only through patience and dedication will the apparent tragic loss of MH370 ever serve any real purpose.

Fly safe.





                                                                 

Title Image: www.wideawakeamerica.com

Auld Lang Syne. An Aviator's New Year. by Owen Zupp

Owen Zupp - Tuesday, December 31, 2013


 

 

Auld Lang Syne.

A New Year Dawns.

 

 

By Owen Zupp.

 

 



Unbelievably, the year is now down to its final hours. It has passed by leaving my children a little older and me none the wiser it would seem. The skies have again been kind to me these past twelve months, so as the champagne pops and the fireworks illuminate Sydney Harbour, my thoughts will again drift to an aviator now passed, who set me on my journey amongst the clouds.

He was a quiet man, short in stature but with arms made strong by a youth of combat and cane-cutting. He was predominantly self-educated, for drought and the Great Depression had stolen much of his childhood and any chance of a formal education. As a commando in the jungles of New Guinea, his kit-bag had been crammed with books on aerodynamics and aircraft while his dreams were of a life free of the earth’s muddy bonds. But it was merely a dream for a lad with a big heart and no apparent claim to the elevated world of aviation. At the war’s end, he traded the humidity of the jungle for the nuclear devastation of Hiroshima before finally wending his way home to Australia after years away at war.

Out of uniform he found it hard to settle down, drifting from one sugar-cane field to another with a few belongings strapped to the rear of his motorcycle. It was hard, hot labour to bring the mighty cane down by hand with snakes underfoot and insects clinging to the raw nectar running down his bare back. At the end of the sugar season, ultimately the road once again led him to the military, but this time as a mechanic in the Royal Australian Air Force. Finally surrounded by the machines he loved, he flourished in the hands-on application of his newly discovered knowledge. With money in his pocket and a home on the air base, he would spend his free hours studying aviation and paying for private flying lessons at the civilian school just across the tarmac. His dream was coming true, although his stunted education continued to form a barrier to any career in the sky; until fate dealt its hand.

With the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, the air force was now depleted in its supply of post-war pilots. It called for volunteers from amongst its ranks and when a kindly commanding officer countersigned the young mechanics application, his world was changed forever. Within 18 months he had transitioned from repairing airframes to flying fighter combat missions over North Korea. As a Sergeant Pilot he would fly over two hundred sorties at the helm of a Gloster Meteor in the lethal ground attack role which saw many of his squadron mates killed in action. On one occasion, his own canopy was blown off by enemy fire and shrapnel was embedded in his face. Even so, he limped the damage jet home and flew two missions the next day. He returned home a decorated veteran and finally completed his formal education at night school.





He married an air force corporal who he had met prior to leaving for Korea when she had processed his departure paperwork. Together they moved from base to base before a civil career ultimately called. From international airlines to cloud-seeding, flight instruction to target-towing, there was very little that the short boy from the Australian bush didn’t fly at some stage in the next 40 years. Yet in the 23,000 hours aloft and countless aircraft types, training always held a special place for him. The chance to mentor the next generation of pilots was something he valued as he always recalled how close his dream had come to never eventuating. If he saw a desire to fly in a young set of eyes, he would go the extra mile to make it happen.

He saw that desire in me from a young age and set an example that I still aspire to achieve. As an instructor he was unsurpassed and held in the highest regard by his peers. He had the knack of explaining complex concepts in simple terms with a million ‘rules of
thumb’ to match. For him flight was always magnificent, but never elite. He cringed at the brash, slicked-back, sunglasses brigade but had endless patience for the struggling student who was trying their very best. He had fought in the jungle and stared down the tracer bullets that struck his jet, yet he never swore in front of women and always stood when they entered the room; he was old school.

To me he passed down so much more than the manipulative skills needed to fly an aeroplane. He instilled airmanship, a sense of command and an ultimate respect for the aircraft and the environment in which it operates. He loathed complacency and arrogance and highlighted that disciplined flying presented the greatest challenge and the most satisfaction. He set the bar very high and I was privileged to have such an outstanding mentor.

So as another year draws to a close, spare a thought for that special person who inspired you or guided you in your fledgling hours aloft. Revisit their lessons and strengths and give thanks for their patience and knowledge. Recount some of their anecdotes and share them with friends and family this New Year’s Eve. It is a real gift to take to the sky, but without a steady guiding hand along the way, the journey can be fraught with potential dangers and self-doubt.

If it’s possible, make contact with your mentor and thank them for their effort. It will mean the world to them and offer a chance to share the hours that have been logged since you last spoke. I would dearly love to speak with the man from the bush who taught me all that I know today and hear more of his pearls of wisdom. However, for me that is no longer an option as cancer took him nearly twenty years ago when I was still a young bush pilot taking my own first steps. Even so, as I sit around this New Years Eve surrounded by family I will spare him a thought and a silent word of thanks. He was the best pilot I ever met. He was my Dad.

Flying Officer Phillip Zupp M.I.D. AM (US) 1925-1991


"Auld Lang Syne" is an excerpt from the best-selling  '50 Tales of Flight'

 

 

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