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




Temora Aviation Museum. Where History is on the Wind. An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Monday, September 17, 2012

 

 

Tremendous Temora.

 

by Owen Zupp

 

It is always worth moving forward with one eye cast over one’s shoulder.

 

Whether conducting a flight on a sunny day and checking whether those clouds are closing in behind, or forging a new frontier and choosing to respect the lessons of the past. Hindsight is not merely 20/20 vision, it is a building block provided by those that have gone before. These building blocks can take many forms; from air crash investigations to a wise old pilot’s words of warning in the ‘back bar’. Regardless of the means of delivery, credible, respected knowledge is worth its weight in gold and yet it is so often provided free of charge to those that possess the patience to pause, look and listen.

 

This weekend I walked away from the computer keyboard, files and manuals that are the life-blood of my latest manuscript. With my family, we drove through the rolling ridges and sun-struck Canola fields until we came upon the NSW township of Temora. At first glance, it offers the usual sights of a rural setting; livestock, harvesters and main streets that are wide enough to turn a bullock-team. But drive a little through Temora and there’s more. So very much more.

 

A few kilometres out of town lies Temora Airport. In the dark days of World War Two this airfield was the thriving home to No.10 Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS). It was here that many of the Royal Australian Air Force’s pilots of that conflict first took to the sky and earned their wings in the timeless Tiger Moth. Today, some buildings and tributes remain and should you opt to explore a little further, you’ll surely come across some old foundations or hardstand amongst the grass. Yet in this digital age, Temora still has something very special to offer and some lessons from yesteryear still to heed; for it is also home to the Temora Aviation Museum.

 

It is a living, breathing museum. The aircraft still fly and the words of veterans are there for all to see upon its walls and through its oral histories. However, it is on the flying days that some real magic happens. Those wondrous aeroplanes that flew in support of Australia’s freedom across the years come to life and fill the skies with sounds and sights that are now so rarely witnessed. Between the dashing fly past of a Spitfire, or the gentle roll of a Gloster Meteor, the voices of veterans are also there to be heard. Men and women who served selflessly in a very different time share their memories with the gathered crowd. The modern day pilots of these vintage machines offer their expert insights and then it’s time for another graceful sweep of the sky by another graceful set of wings.

 

At sea level there are active workshops to view from the gallery, other veteran aircraft to admire and walls and walls of images and tales. Then the sound of a Merlin catches the ear and all heads tilt skyward, shielding the sun in an informal salute. For in this era of fuel-efficient twin turbo-fans, Temora gives the sky a face and a heart-beat. Graceful silhouettes and magical sounds intermingle with the occasional cloud and the lightest of breezes. And yet even these majestic aircraft are merely inert metal without the people behind them. From those veterans of yesteryear to the professionals of today, it is the people that breathe the life into these wonderful machines.

 

And when the display has finished and the Merlin’s sigh is replaced by the chug of the tractor putting the aircraft to bed, there are still special moments to be found. As the sun sits lower and the breeze flicks the top of the blades of the long grass, a few keen airmen seek to grab the last rays of light and skip through the sky one last time. Seated silently where those pioneers once walked there are still sights to be seen; a Pitts stall turns overhead and an RV10 closes the throttle as the ‘piano keys’ pass beneath. They are new sounds being sung by new aircraft in a new world, saluting the roar of those aircraft that have gone before.

 

Aircraft and airmen are always well advised to build upon those lessons already learned. Temora brings those lessons alive through both men and machines of a bygone time and all the grace that comes with them. And once the excitement has passed and the day is nearly done, find a quiet corner and sit down amongst the grass. If you listen ever so carefully you might hear the wind passing through the wires of a biplane, or a whisper from those excited youths who were our nation’s airmen in its darkest days. Sit back, forget the world as it is and take in what it once was. At Temora, such a dream is still within your reach.

 

 

Ground Rush. (Part Four) Landing an Aeroplane. An Aviation Training Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Friday, June 29, 2012

 

 

Ground Rush. (Part Four)

 

 

Hit the Spot.

 

As we fly down our final approach we are always assessing our aim point. That imaginary spot on the runway where we project our flight path will lead us to connect with the runway. A stable approach sees that aim point sitting steadily upon the same point in our windscreen as we drive towards it at the nominated approach speed. Unfortunately, that spot can sometimes wander up and down the windscreen.

 

‘Nailing’ that aim point is more commonly referred to as aim point retention. A frequent scenario sees the aim point move further down the runway in the latter stages of the approach. Sometimes this is because in the heat of battle the pilot loses a degree of discipline in focussing on the specific point, lost in the looming runway. Occasionally, it results from trepidation on the part of the pilot manifesting in unwarranted back pressure on the control column, raising the nose. In either case, the touchdown point will occur much further down the runway, just as if excessive speed had been carried into the flare.

 

Equally, ‘target fascination’ with the aim point can result in the pilot arriving at the correct point, but driving it into that point rather than flaring. In the worst case the nosewheel can actually touchdown first, causing damage or a potential ‘wheel-barrowing’ situation; neither are advisable. This issue can be particularly significant at night as the landing lights illuminating the runway almost transfix the pilot’s line of sight to the tarmac at the very time that the eyes should start to look ahead. The goal is to retain the aim point until we arrive at that wonderfully vague point in space where flight down to the runway transforms into the landing manoeuvre known as the flare. Hold onto the aim point for too long and the aircraft will most certainly make an arrival rather than a landing.

 

Just as with speed, aim point retention or lack thereof, can be a contributing factor in the ‘where’ and ‘how’ of an aircraft’s landing. Often aim points can wander or become hypnotic when pilots are tired and the end of a long day, or a session of circuits. Be aware of where you are looking and work at flying there, but also be ready to release the point when the flare dictates.

 

Showing Some Flare.

 

The flare is undoubtedly one place where aviation science and art frequently speak a different language. Even for the most experienced pilot, the timing of when to transition into the landing manoeuvre can be misjudged. It is a skill that comes with practise and a right of passage that all students must endure along their journey. However, just as precision in parking a car improves with time and familiarity, the visual cues will begin to establish themselves in the pilot’s mind’s eye with greater exposure.

 

 

 

 

 

At that point when the approach becomes the landing, the pilot’s eyes should release the aim point and rise towards the runways end. At this point the ground will rise in the peripheral vision and assist in judging the rate of closure while the focal point ahead will offer cues for maintaining directional control. The pilot is now endeavouring to bleed the energy from the aircraft by reducing power and increasing the angle of attack with back pressure. Lift is still being generated, but without adequate energy, level flight is replaced by a controlled descent to the runway. Occasionally, the reduction in power is not complete and the aircraft may elect to continue flying in ground effect, so make sure that when it is time to land, the thrust is reduced fully.

 

 

Playing it Straight.


The need to be aligned with the runway at touchdown has been previously emphasised. It avoids directional control issues during the ground roll and undue trauma to the undercarriage. The most obvious challenge to this objective is the crosswind and instructors and students continue to battle this fiend using a variety of techniques from the ‘side-slip’ to the ‘crabbed’ approach where the aircraft is aligned in the flare.

 

Yet at times, the wind does not need to be abeam for runway alignment to wander. On final, pilots develop a ‘wing walk’ where they oscillate aileron, or occasionally rudder, inputs with a resultant rolling or yawing motion. Presenting as gentle S-Turns as the pilot chases the centreline, it is often merely a case of P-I-O; (Pilot Induced Oscillation). PIO can occur with the use of elevator as well and results in a lot of effort for no benefit. If centreline management is proving a struggle on final, then relax all control inputs and see if the aircraft is actually trimmed and flying well. The problem may simply be over-controlling, which if carried into the flare can cause all sorts of confusion.

 

A Thought on Short.

 


A short field landing is achieved by flying a standard approach at a slightly lower speed and achieving the desired touchdown point with precision. It is NOT achieved by a very low speed/high thrust undershoot approach, dropped onto the near end of the runway and followed by excessive braking. This latter technique has more holes in it than Swiss cheese as it doesn’t account for obstacles on approach, avail adequate thrust and airspeed to conduct a missed approach and runs a high risk of flat-spotting a tyre. And yet you will see it time and again.

 

Short field landings are more than ever about a stable approach, flown at a minimum safe margin speed over the stall. The standard approach perspective means that no major adjustments in technique are called for and those trees on final are not a threat. Aim point retention is doubly important as these approaches are generally necessitated by length critical airstrips. At a lower speed, there will be less energy to dissipate, so the landing flare is initiated a fraction later. This assists in achieving the aim point and avoiding an unwanted float down the runway. Fly the book figures as they appear in the Flight Manual and always verify the field length is adequate from the ‘P-Charts’. And check that adequate length exists to depart again before committing to a landing is always well advised.

 

Airmanship and Away!

 


In all landings, AVIATE-NAVIGATE-COMMUNICATE. In a tight traffic environment, don’t succumb to subtle pressure from ATC to expedite clearance of the runway. As an aviator, airmanship dictates that you won’t dawdle unnecessarily on the runway after landing. Jumping on the brakes and blowing a tyre or snapping a nose-gear won’t help anybody. You are the pilot in command, fly the aircraft to the best of your ability and if inadequate separation has been provided with the following aircraft then they can go-around. Similarly, these requests can be made as the aircraft is rolling out and should not be acknowledged unless the aircraft is well and truly decelerated and under control.

 

In all cases, on approach, in the flare, or after a bounce, if the pilot is not happy with the situation then conduct a missed approach. As the saying goes, “If in doubt. BUG OUT!” Generally, the earlier a poor situation is abandoned, the simpler the extraction. Time affords a more organised abandonment of the approach in an unrushed manner. For this reason, the go-around should be practised at various stages of the approach and landing throughout a pilot’s career. It is a manoeuvre that can be called for at any time and requires the correct sequence of actions and the management of trim that can prove awkward. A prudent, competent missed approach is a strong weapon in a pilot’s arsenal.

 

For all of the variables that the aircraft and environment can provide, it will always be impossible to detail them all in the written word. Similarly, nothing can substitute the positive input from a proficient instructor for both the student pilot and the qualified aviator who is lacking currency. What the 'Ground Rush' has sought to emphasise is the common traps that plague the landing phase and to reassure one and all that the landing is not the ‘make or break’ of a pilot.

 

The landing is merely the arrival at the end of a flight that has called for all manner of skills enroute. Highly rated and unfairly judged, the landing will continue to be the secret nemesis of many pilots. However, in its most basic components it is about being on speed, on aim point, on slope and aligned with the runway. When the ground rush is sensed and the earth moves up to meet the wheels, it is all about safety........finesse will come with time.

 

 

 

Missed the story so far?

CLICK HERE to begin 'Ground Rush' at PART ONE.

 

Ground Rush. (Part Two) Landing an Aeroplane. An Aviation Training Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Wednesday, June 20, 2012

 

 

Ground Rush. (Part Two) 

 

An Aviation Training Blog

 

by Owen Zupp.

 

Be Consistent.

 

It always pays to have a consistent set of terms of reference. The environment and the aircraft can introduce enough variables, so it is important that we endeavour to keep our methods constant.

 

One of the first items we can attend to for landing occurs even before engine start; seat position. Logically, seat position determines our ‘eye position’ which is critical in the process of perspective and judgement. Some aircraft provide a series of markings or guides for the best eye position, though the majority leave seat position up to the individual. Internally, the seat must be far enough forward to comfortably access all controls and switches while permitting full and free movement of the control column at its aft-most travel. For those aircraft with fixed seats and adjustable pedals, the same effect can be achieved through the use of cushions. The position should also permit a clear view of all instruments and annunciators without being obscured by the instrument panel coaming. (This can sometimes be a challenge with ageing, drooping coamings and another reason they need to be maintained.)

 

For the view outside, the positioning of the seat should permit a clear view ahead above the instrument panel. Commonly, pilots can sit a little low, but ideally they should have a view along a tangent down the nose. This will ensure an adequate forward field of vision in low visibility operations. This seat position is best assessed on the ground just before engine start. To do it any earlier may result in having to repeat the process after you move the seat to access a jacket on the back seat, or close a door.

 

Scan the instrument panel, exercise the controls fully and look well ahead to visualise the landing perspective. The perspective will be different on approach, but selection of flap will lower the nose further and enhance the outlook. If flying the same aircraft day after day, this exercise may come naturally, but take a little more time and effort when moving between aircraft. On approach with the seat adjusted correctly, remember to sit up straight and the eye position will offer a relatively consistent perspective on each approach. It is worth noting that if the seat position doesn’t feel quite correct coming in to land; LEAVE IT ALONE! Do not adjust seats on approach as the potential catastrophe from a seat sliding back is not worth the attempt.

 

                    

 

It is often said that a good landing results from a good approach. This is fundamentally because a good approach involves being configured in a timely fashion, with correct speeds being flown and a stable rate of descent. It may be flown from a base leg or a straight in approach, so the perspective can change. What remains consistent is that the approach is unrushed and the pilot is able to focus on the approach and landing without being distracted by gross adjustments of airspeed and/or attitude late in the approach. Should these occur the safest option is generally to go-around and attempt another approach to land.

 

If new to a particular aircraft type, not overly current, or even just a little uncomfortable; establish the aircraft into its landing configuration of gear and flap setting early. It will result in slowing down early and powering up against the extended drag, but it allows the aircraft and the pilot to be established in the landing ‘mode’ without being rushed. With the landing checklist complete, there are no other tasks to distract for the primary one of flying the approach. There should be no further major changes in attitude or trim and the ‘picture’ out the front should remain fairly consistent down to the flare.

 

Once stable and configured on final approach, the aim point should be clearly selected. If not marked by a painted stripe, it may be abeam a group of trees or a darker patch of dirt. Whatever it may be, the pilot should pick the spot and keep it steady in the windscreen by whichever technique they have been instructed. However, the eyes should not be obsessed with the aim point. There must be scanning cycle that assesses the approach perspective, or ‘slope’, the track relative to the centerline and even a brief glance back inside to verify the airspeed. A mental repeating mantra of something like; ‘aim point-slope- centerline-speed’ may remind the pilot to continually assess the various aspects of the approach. Importantly, if something is not correct, fix it before moving onto the next point, always being aware that adjusting one element may impact upon others. As the approach gets closer to the ground, the adjustments should become progressively more subtle, notwithstanding that wind shear and the likes call for significant action regardless of the aircraft’s location.

 

Correctly flown, a stable approach flown with a consistent, cyclic scan will bring the aircraft over the fence in a healthy state to commence the flare. A ‘last look’ inside may be stolen to indicate whether the speed is a little fast or slow or trending, but otherwise the eyes are outside. The subsequent transition to the flare calls for the pilot to look ahead and release the rigid eye-line to the aim point.

 

Ground Rush.

 

 

The runway is now just below the wheels and the flare is about to commence. Much of the hard work has actually already been completed, so what can go wrong now? How can a stable approach be complicated at the last moment, or in some cases much earlier? Next blog, a number of variables will be discussed from over-controlling to cross-winds. When the wheels approach the earth some of the challenges are of the pilot’s making and others are most definitely not.

 

Ground Rush. (Part One) Landing an Aeroplane. An Aviation Training Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Saturday, June 16, 2012

Ground Rush. (Part One)

 

The Right Approach

 

By Owen Zupp

 

 

What goes up, must come down and for every successful flight, its end is marked with an equally successful return to earth. Only occupying a fraction of the flight time, the landing continues to provide a focal point for pilots, passengers and the chap on the hill with the telephoto lens. Why is it when the wheels meet Mother Earth, sometimes it’s a kiss and sometimes it's a slap? Often the answer lies well before the touchdown.

 

Method or Mystique?

 

Many words have been written and hours of briefings undertaken in search of mastering the ability to land. Some have been scientific and even mathematical in nature, while others have been far more general. For pilots, part of the problem is that landing is a mixture science and art. It involves the hard figures of approach speeds, aircraft weight, and available runway length, but also the judgement of when the appropriate control inputs need to be initiated and then modulated to guide the aircraft back to earth. Blend into the mix the varying ambient conditions of wind and temperature and the pilot is challenged by a genuine act of complex co-ordination.

 

As such, the input of a flight instructor and the age-old art of ‘practice makes perfect’ are often the best means of managing the individual’s manipulative issues. However, there are a number of fundamental matters that each pilot can attend to that will make the instructor’s lot much easier and go a long way towards improving the approach and landing phase.

 

Often very unfairly, a flight is judged or remembered because of the landing. The preflight planning, standard operating procedures and navigational finesse that brought the aircraft safely over the runway threshold are too often overlooked when the flight terminates with a less than gracious arrival. This culture can serve to exacerbate the pressure to perform that some pilots feel and ultimately climbs into their concentration, eroding their performance further. This is human nature, yet if we look at automation; it doesn’t suffer from such subtleties.

 

Advanced modern aircraft equipped with sensors and coupled autopilots routinely conduct ‘Autolands’ as the pilots watch on in the role of a monitor. These emotionless autopilots resist the tendency to over-control and are without trepidation as the ground looms large ahead. It is purely an exercise in calculation and function, timed precisely for a successful outcome. Even so, automation on aircraft may still have defined limitations such as crosswind, beyond which the pilot must intervene. As such, the need still remains for the pilot to be the manipulative master of the aeroplane and yet regardless of experience, the landing phase can turn and bite. Some of the reasons are those faced by student pilots every day.

 

 

The Goal.

 

It is firstly worthwhile to review what is sought from landing an aircraft. The smooth ‘greaser’ landing should not be the ultimate goal, though it can be a rather satisfying side-effect. In fact on wet runways, the aircraft manufacturers recommend a firm or positive touchdown as an extra defence against aquaplaning.

 

Safe landings are about arriving at the aim point, on the centre-line at the required airspeed and aligned with the runway. As long as the touchdown is not unduly heavy, bounced or askew, the goal has been achieved. The degree of comfort will be enhanced with a lower rate of descent at touchdown, but this should not be the driving force. Undue focus on the smooth touchdown can lead to the consumption of significant amounts of valuable runway as the pilot ‘feels’ for the ground. And even after such an effort, if contact not been made by the time the airspeed has eroded below flying speed, the aircraft will thump onto the ground anyway. Wasted runway, wasted effort.

 

Safety must always come first. Finesse will come with experience and maintained with currency. When the goal of the landing is clear in the mind, it serves to reinforce and clarify what is being sought on final approach; aim point, speed and centre-line.

 

Relax.

 

Before the manipulation skills even come into play, the mind has to be on the job. For any phase of flight the pilot must be well rested as fatigue will erode the performance and safe conduct of the flight. As the landing by its very nature comes at the end of a sector, fatigue may be at its very worst, so rest should always form a critical element of pre-flight preparation. Yet beyond the physical fatigue, pilots can induce a degree of mental fatigue by focusing too much upon the landing well before it is even an issue. This can serve to distract the pilot from the tasks at hand and eat at the holistic viewpoint that is needed for sound flight management. It is best to preserve the mental energy until it is actually needed.

 

Tell tale signs can also start to creep in and instructors over the years have seen them on numerous occasions. Often nervousness manifests as the landing pilot starts to discuss the prevailing weather conditions in a negative sense as if to offer an excuse for the upcoming performance. There is no argument that hot, gusty conditions, or low visibility present their own challenges to the landing, but idle banter doesn’t help. Review the conditions and consider how they may best be countered before the aircraft is flying down final. Do the gusts warrant a speed additive on final? Where is the crosswind coming from and what actions are required to be aligned with the runway at touchdown? May a higher flap setting lower the nose for better visibility in passing showers? Respond to the conditions with an assessment and a plan rather than nervous tension.

 

 

 

White knuckles are another sign that the landing holds some demons for the pilot. Strangling the control column does not threaten the aircraft into flying better and actually destroys much of the pilots ‘feel’. It can lead to subconscious control inputs and poor trimming of the aeroplane. Both of these actions can interfere significantly with the flaring process where there are major changes in pitch and power. 

 

Similarly, a pilot’s posture can interfere with the landing. Whether through fatigue or stress, pilots can often slump or lean to one side as they fly the final approach. This can play havoc as landing is about appreciating the perspective of the runway ahead and a constant ‘picture’ is one of the best aids. At the flight’s commencement the seat was adjusted in an unrushed manner based on the best outlook, so any slumping or leaning is going to adjust that set of visual cues.

 

Often these traits are subconscious and build gradually beneath the surface as the landing draws closer. In the training phases, there is an instructor present to offer a wake up call, but once licensed, pilots must take this task upon themselves. Whether flying an ILS or sliding down a visual approach, use a cue to prompt a self review. It may be the selection of the final stage of flap, a certain height or capturing the Glideslope, but at some point take a moment to remind oneself to sit up straight and relax. Take a breath, adjust the posture and relax the grip on the control column to feel if the aircraft is really in trim. You are now physically ready to land the aeroplane.....

Check back soon for Part Two of 'Ground Rush'.

 

 

 

 

A Home in the Clouds. An Aviation Image by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Wednesday, June 13, 2012

 

 

A Home in the Clouds.

 

Flight Level 280 and climbing......

 

The Departure Time Grows Close for the QANTAS A380 "Nancy Bird Walton" . An Aviation Blog by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Saturday, April 21, 2012

 

For the QANTAS A380 "Nancy Bird Walton" the departure time grows close.

By Owen Zupp.

 

I have been overwhelmed by the interest in my blog over the past 24 hours. Thank you!

As the hours count down to VH-OQA's departure from Singapore, here is a look inside the A380 simulator. Shortly I'll be posting a story on what it's like to fly and an update on the return of "Nancy Bird", so for the latest on the A380, keep checking back here at www.owenzupp.com.

Thanks again for your tremendous support of this aviation blog.

Safe Flying,

Owen

"Rotate." An Aviation Blog Image by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Sunday, March 11, 2012

       

 

"Rotate!"

  

"Hit the Ground Running." An Aviation Blog Image by Owen Zupp.

Owen Zupp - Friday, March 09, 2012

 

"Hit the Ground Running."

 

An Australian Army 'Blackhawk' delivers its troops on a training exercise.

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.

 

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