Another Day in Paradise. An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Friday, March 09, 2012

"Another Day in Paradise."

 

It’s 3am and the rain is pelting down. Actually, to be more accurate it is thrashing the walls of my house, driven horizontally by howling winds. It’s another half an hour before I have to throw my legs over the side of the bed and make my way to work, so I just lie there and listen to Mother Nature flexing her muscles. It’s an awesome sound.

 

It’s a sound that has meant many different things to me over the years. As a young student pilot, each rain-drop carried a sting of disappointment as I knew that the lesson the next day was sure to be cancelled. The cloud base would be too low for stalling, or the crosswind too strong for circuits, either way it would be another frustrating day on Terra Firma. Even when the bonds of the circuit and training area had been broken, low pressure systems and developing troughs would destroy any chance of cross-country flying. If the weather was marginal, I would still venture out to the airfield and loiter around the briefing office reading the latest forecasts and bothering the ‘Met Man’ as if he could actually control the weather. Sometimes I would be there for hours waiting for the weather to lift, only to travel home tired and disappointed. If only I’d really listened to that rain on the roof the night before.

 

Even the day of my Commercial Licence flight test got underway five hours late because of the weather and in retrospect I was weary before the propeller ever turned. Still it was a great day that I’ll never forget. Yet even when armed with a brand new CPL, the rain was still there to spoil the fun in other ways. Those early mornings, traipsing across sodden ground in the dark, up to my ankles in water as fresh drops ran down the back of my neck. Pre-flighting the outside amidst waves of falling water, only to take half the sea inside when I opened the cockpit door. I would then slide onto a wet seat with sodden socks and the peak of my cap dripping onto my already soaked flight plan and charts. Yelling “Clear Prop” at the top of my voice to make sure no-one else was stupid enough to be out in this weather and highlight the fact that I was. With the engines started, there was a chance that the de-mister might actually clear the windscreen, even if it only really served to turn my wet socks into ice.

 

When I was fortunate enough to fly, I was then either dodging thunderstorms in Australia’s vast north-west, or seeing flight lessons cancelled once again, but now as the instructor. An instrument rating brought some solace, but still no certainty. There would be days flying in that thin corridor between the lowest safe altitude and the freezing level, which always seemed to get very narrow over the Great Dividing Range. Or the nights when the rain came by stealth in the form of ice, insidiously creeping along the wings and only exposed by the beam of my torch reaching beyond the cockpit. Some of those nights I was wishing that I was lying in bed listening to the rain thrash against the walls rather than buffeting me about the skies.

 

Even at the journeys end, the cloud maintained its mystery; how far down did it really extend? Would I be lucky tonight and see the ground first time? The lights of the land below would teasingly glow through thin breaks in the cloud before....yes...a glimpse...no...yes....that’s it....definitely yes... the runway. VISUAL!!!! And still the rain would have its last words against the windscreen while the wind seemingly pulled the world sidewards. I would then do battle with the weather one more time to tie the aeroplane down and put her to bed.

 

Believe it or not, I still look back on those dark wet nights with real joy and a sense of appreciation for the lessons that I learned.

 

Today, the world is a little different. There are two experienced pilots in air-conditioned comfort flying an aircraft with in-built redundancies of everything you can imagine. Turbines have replaced pistons and anti-icing systems that are far more effective than a torch. There are ‘Head-Up Displays’, flight management systems, RNP approaches and autopilots that actually work. Every few months there is simulator training to prepare you for the worst case scenario and every day wonderful cabin crew that feed you when their workload permits. The rain and weather are still there, but these days experience, training and technology has provided me with the best set of defences that I can hope for. Regardless of whether it’s a Beechcraft or a Boeing, it is still up to the pilot to recognise the variables that the weather inevitably brings and cater for them in the safest possible way.

 

It’s now 4am and I’m driving along the freeway with the wipers sweeping across my windscreen as fast as they will go. The wind is rocking the car and the steering wheel intermittently twists in my hand as the wheels strike a patch of standing water. I sit well below the speed limit and readily concede that this is the most dangerous part of my day as another numb-skull overtakes me at Mach Two. Then my memory trips back to another wet night and I’m just a boy lying in my single bed in our little fibro home in Sydney. It’s 2am and the phone has startled me from my sleep before I hear my Dad’s lowered voice. There’s the unmistakable rustling of his uniform shirt with its wings and ID card and the steps of his undoubtedly highly polished boots. He has been called out on this foul night to guide the 'Air Ambulance' to some remote township to help a stranger in need.

 

As the front door clicks shut, I hear him scamper through the rain to open our front gate. The rain is pelting down upon the roof and the wind is shaking the screen upon my window, but if I listen really closely, there’s another sound. It’s my father and he’s whistling. It’s 2am, it’s pouring rain, he’s about to launch into the night....and he’s whistling. My head sinks back into my pillow and I think about my Dad whistling. And then I think about his job. There must be something to this pilot stuff. I might have to give it a go one day.   

Goodnight.

 



  
 
Comments
Andrew McLaughlin commented on 09-Mar-2012 03:22 PM
You need a 'like' button on your blog mate...another cracker!
Anonymous commented on 10-Mar-2012 03:41 AM
Brilliant Owen, but it's the early starts I'm not going to miss!
Millsy commented on 14-Mar-2012 10:04 PM
I second that motion Owen. I had only intended to breeze through your site, only to find myself reading blog after blog.
Owen Zupp commented on 15-Mar-2012 04:25 AM
Thanks all, I really appreciate the feedback. Andrew, thanks for the advice. All of the pages now have an ability to 'Like' and 'Share'. And 'Anon', so much for the early starts, it's 4am and I'm working on the blog. Personally, I love this time of day.:-)
Thanks everyone.

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