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Thursday, 18 December 2014

New Experience Challenge Week 50: Flying High

I came home at 11am on Tuesday morning to find my sister Christina cooking in the kitchen.
'Hey!' she said. 'I've got friends coming over at 12. We're going to make margaritas and bitch about men for a while, so you might want to not be here.'
'I just flew a plane,' I said with a smile. The way her face dropped was priceless.
'What do you mean?'
'What do you mean "what do I mean"? I just flew a plane!'
'But... I... You... What?'
I took out my camera and showed her a photo of me sitting at the control of a tiny single-engine aircraft. The salt farms and mangroves on the outskirts of Adelaide stretched out in the background. Christina still didn't know what to make of it. I cycled through the photos to one of a thin cloud that was sitting right next to the window.
'Okay, that looks real!!' she cried! 'Explain!'

Okay, so it started aaaaaall the way back in April when I volunteered at a gala auction. I forked out $115 for a voucher for a half-hour flight in a GROB airplane. Back then, I'm pretty sure the only people following my blog were Jimmy Fungus, Gorilla Bananas and a small group of my friends and relatives. You wouldn't know because you never read my blog.

'Well, I've got a short attention span,' said Christina with a huff. 'And I've got hundreds of episodes of TV shows to get through.'
'Yeah yeah...' I know Friends is more important.'

So anyway, that voucher had been sitting on my desk for literally eight months, waiting for me to take advantage of it. Sure, there were plenty of days I could have found time to do it, but it's one of those things that slip your mind every time you've got an opportunity to use it. I finally made the effort purely out of necessity. With only three weeks left this year, I needed to find time, no matter how hard it was. So at 9:30am on the 16th December, I arrived at the quiet, sparse Parafield airport and stepped inside the lobby.

I was eventually greeted by the pilot Matt, a quietly spoken man with short hair and a young, but experienced-looking face. I guessed he was in his late twenties or early thirties. I realized I'd never seen a pilot in uniform this close before, and I finally understood why women like it so much.

'Ew, but go on...' said Christina.

'Hi Michael, I'm Matt. I'll be taking you out today. It's lucky, it looks like the conditions have cleared up so it might be pretty smooth.'
That worried me more than calmed me. The sky had been nice and clear since the moment I woke up. Were there some invisible factors that I hadn't learned about? Matt tuned in a radio by the window to listen to the weather forecast and then checked some books on the counter.
'It says here you're doing point-five. Would you like to do point-seven?'
'Yeah sure, what does that mean?'
'It's point-two better,' said Matt with a wink.

'Urgh, that's so you,' said Christina. Normal people would ask what it means before they say yes. You just jump right on in headfirst and ask questions later.'

Stepping over to the the counter, I saw that Matt was writing the details of the flight into a log book. He'd written 0.7 under the heading "flight duration". Oh, I see - he'd given me an extra 12 minutes of flight time for absolutely no reason other than to be generous. That was really nice of him! He took me over to a map on the wall and pointed to where the airfield was.
'Okay, so we'll be taking off from here and turning left, heading in the St Kilda direction. After I take us up, I'll probably hand over the controls and let you do a bit of flying. Are you okay with that?'
'What? Um, yeah! You're okay with nose-diving right?'
'Hahaha that won't happen. You'll be fine.'
'If you say so...'

Matt grabbed some keys off of a hook by the counter. I found that hilarious. I was expecting him to then walk outside and press a button to unlock the central locking. The plane itself was tiny and a bit rusty. The dials inside looked like they had been there since the eighties. Matt unlocked the top and I jumped into the left-hand seat holding a bulky pair of Sennheiser headphones.

These pedals worked the rudder at the back of the plane.

Um... where do I plug this?

The seatbelt was very weird.

And here's the steering column.

Matt spent some time unchaining the plane from the ground (it was chained up!) and sat in the other seat checking dials and writing things down in his log book. Then, with a turn of the key in the ignition and the flick of a few switches, the propeller in front of the plane sputtered to life, rattling the gear in front of me in a worrying fashion. Through our headphones we could hear the control tower giving instructions to the pilots around us.
'Juliet Victor Tango requesting taxi.' said Matt into his headset. "Juliet Victor Tango" is the phonetic representation of the plane's registration - JVT. Taxi just means making your way over to the runway.
'Juliet Victor Tango cleared for taxi to Juliet three, twenty-six right,' came the reply from control. I have no idea what that means.

'Juliet Victor Tango requesting takeoff.'
'Juliet Victor Tango cleared for takeoff.'
Matt pushed the throttle between us to full and we sped along the runway, lifting off the ground and bumping our way into the air. When you're in a plane that small, you feel practically every wave of the wind, dropping and rising every few seconds in a way that makes your stomach jump. But at last, we were in the air and cruising at around 1500 feet.

I was asking a lot of questions the whole time, such as "What is a knot?" "What does this dial mean?" and "Is this thing meant to come out like that?" Matt was more than happy to answer all my questions. Then it came time for me to take over.
'Okay, so this is the steering column,' he started to explain. 'When you pull it out towards you, the plane pitches up, see? If you push it down, the plane pitches down.'
'Let's not do that too much.'
'Fair enough. Turning the column left or right, it rolls the plane that way, and those pedals by your feet work the rudder. When I want you to take over, I'll say "You're in control" and you'll confirm that by saying "I'm in control". When you want me to take back over, just say "You're in control" and I'll confirm the same way.'
'Okay, so I'm in control.'
'That's right.'
'No, as in I'm taking over now...'
'Oh right. Yep, you're in control!'

Matt let go of the steering wheel and I had control. He told me to keep the plane level at 1500 feet and head over to St Kilda, a small town in the distance. I kept my eyes fixated on the altimeter the whole time - I couldn't concentrate on my surroundings. Lucky we had a camera to do that job for us.

Once we hit St Kilda, I turned the plane and headed out for the water. Apparently the ride is smoother over the water because the heat doesn't rise out there - the water absorbs it. As I turned, I asked more about the mechanics of flying.
'So if I turn too far, We'll be basically vertical and we'll start falling, right?'
'Yeah, that's right, said Matt. 'It looks like this.' He grabbed the column and eased it far to the left. I watched the altimeter dip to 1200 feet in the space of three seconds. It's not every day you can say you fell 300 feet without even feeling it.
'Where was the "You're in control "??' I shouted.
'Oh yep, I'm in control,' he said sheepishly.

We flew over those mangroves and other great terrains before reaching the water and sliding in between the clouds. We took more photos the whole time.

All too soon, it was time to turn back. Matt took over control again (remembering to say "I'm in control), and turned us around back to the airfield. I had one final scare just before we landed where I was watching the runway approach and thinking "We're dropping too fast! We'll never make it!" But of course, Matt knew what he was doing. We made it with several meters to spare and he let me taxi to the runway.

'I have one more question,' said Christina. 'Did you even tell anyone you were going to do this?'
'I think Mum knew,' I replied. And I told Dad as I was walking out the door.'
'You're insane,' she said, shaking her head.
'I still haven't told anyone what I'm doing in the final week,' I replied cheekily.
'What are you doing?'
I winked and walked away.
'Michael, what are you doing? What's the final thing? Jerk!'


  1. Aw man, I am so stinkin' jealous; I'd love to terrify a pilo- ----- um, fly a plane! And that particular pilot looks so much like my youngest brother, it would be a pure pleasure, bwahahaha!

    Yup, some things one never outgrows, like picking on siblings. You wouldn't know anything about that, would you Michael. ;-)

    1. Hey, I would NEVER do that to a sibling ;)

  2. Um... How do I meet Matt without actually flying??
    Well done Michael - love your spirit of adventure.
    I reckon your awesome sister should get her own spin-off series. :-)

    1. Hahaha maybe you should just hang around Parafield Airport with that picture and wait until he comes out.

      I wonder how Christina would feel about being the regular subject of my blog posts?

  3. haha oh now that would sure be fun. I went up in a small one years ago. Nothing like picking on a sibling either

    1. I don't know which one was more fun. Probably the flying, but whatever.

  4. Very cool! You slipped the surly bonds on earth alright, as the saying goes. And hey, nice cliffhanger about your next post!

    1. There's still one more week in between this and that, I'm going to have to think of something good.

  5. That is so awesome! I would like to ride in a plane that small, let alone fly it! Love all the pics.

    I can't even fathom what you have for your final week, when this was such a huge thing! I'm with your sister...what's the final thing?!

    1. Just two more weeks and you'll find out ;)

  6. Wow, wow and wow. From the safety of my chair that looks amazing.
    I suspect (know) my stomach would be performing spectacular acrobatics if I was any closer.
    Looking forward to your final thang....

    1. He did keep asking me how I felt, as if he expected me to hurl at any point...

  7. Thanks for the plug..now maybe I will get some new readers..but not Christina because she never reads your blog. At least she was impressed with you flying a plane though. And not only did you fly a plane, you had presence of mind to snap all those pictures as well. I probably would be too busy praying I wouldn't crash to even think of that.

    1. Hahaha don't worry. I never took any photos myself while I was controlling the plane. It's a lot more stable than it seems - I'd say losing focus while driving a car is more likely to result in a crash than losing focus in a plane.

  8. Let's talk a little more about this pilot's uniform thing...haha

    I can't wait to find out what your ultimate adventure is going to be!

    1. Yep, even I found myself swooning a little ;)

  9. You're such a young cutie! Good for you, flying. Spread your wings. My dad was a pilot in the military. During World War II he was a flight instructor, stationed in California. I wish I knew more about his experiences.


  10. Wow, this was quite an adventure! You're much braver than I am. The photos are amazing.

    1. Oh, it wasn't bravery :P It really doesn't feel much different to driving a car when it's smooth.

  11. You mean he didn't let you land it? What a spoilsport! The plane reminds me of the one they flew in 'Skippy the bush kangaroo' and you definitely look like a real pilot who knows what he's doing. Maybe you're a natural!

    1. There's SO much to keep an eye on during take off and landing, I would have most definitely killed us.

  12. What an exhilarating experience! I have only been a passenger in a plane twice and got really, really sick both times. There's no way I would be able to stomach flying one! Can't wait to hear how you finish off the year!

    1. Yeah generally the smaller the plane, the harder it is to hold your stomach :P

  13. That is so awesome. What a great experience.

  14. It just gets better. You look like a pro. I'm too scared to be a passenger in a small plane, much less fly one. Congrats, Michael.

    I hope you're having a great holiday season. xo

    1. I've forgotten what real free time is like. I've been playing a LOT of video games lately.

  15. Hi Michael. My Dad used to own a small plane but he sold it to buy a farm, long before I was old enough to have any say in the matter. However, I did get the opportunity to take the controls of a float plane once. It's a very addictive experience!

    1. Hm, I think the farm (while a bit less fun) was the smarter option there ;)

  16. hahaha, I love the sibling factor in your story. :) That's cool that you got to fly the plane. Smart thinking on using the voucher before it expired, now you've got an experience that tons of people have on their bucket list, already said and done!!

    1. Well flying a plane wasn't on my bucket list before, but this mysterious final item is.

  17. That's so cool! I'd love to fly a plane. I'm afraid of heights that are not enclosed. Planes are enclosed, so they don't bother me. Roller coasters, and hang gliders I have a problem with.

    That's great you crossed that off your bucket list.

    1. That's interesting. I can see how being protected from the elements can make you feel safer.

  18. Now I just read that it wasn't on your bucket list. Maybe it was just meant to be.


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