My earliest memory of Aviation was at around the age of 4, I was walking down the street with my Dad and I saw something flying overhead and asked my Dad what it was, he told me it was a plane.  When I asked where it was going, he said could be anywhere in the world.  It left my young self quite intrigued.

It wasn’t until 10 years later, just before my 14th birthday, that I actually flew on a plane for the first time.  Virgin Blue (now Virgin Australia) flight DJ512, from Sydney to Coolangatta (Gold Coast), Boeing 737-800 for a family holiday.  I can remember how extremely excited I was as I had always loved Aviation since I was a kid and now finally got to fly in a plane myself.  I can distinctly remember sitting in the window seat, feeling that acceleration as we were rolling down the runway, then finally leaving the ground and launching into the sky, I was hooked and knew by then there was nowhere else I’d rather be.

For Christmas 2007, I was lucky enough to get a brand new Toshiba laptop, a copy of Microsoft Flight Simulator X and a Logitech joystick.  I was ecstatic!  After ripping through all of the packaging I installed FSX and finally found out what it was like to “Fly” for the first time.  I loaded up a Boeing 737-800 on the runway at Sydney (YSSY) and attempted to re-enact my previous first flight a couple of months before.  Needless to say, I stalled the aircraft after taking off and crashed into the ground.  I knew I had some work to do!

In the years ahead, I started to learn a lot more about flight, trying to understand not only how everything worked, but why behind things as well.  Before long, I was flying everything from a Cessna 172 to a Boeing 747-400, tearing up the virtual skies on VATSIM (apologies to any controllers and fellow pilots who had to deal with my “flying” in the early years haha!).  Once I really started to understand how flying an aircraft worked, I began joining different virtual airlines from around the world (using VATSIM).  Here, I met fellow flight sim enthusiasts from different countries, some of which I have now become actual friends with and have actually flown together in real life!  Never discount the power of networking, even over something such as online Flight Simulator flying, you never know who you will meet and relationships that can be formed from it.

I Spoke to a careers adviser in the 10th grade as I wanted some advice on the pathways to becoming a pilot.  The advisor basically told me that becoming a pilot was not a great career choice and I should consider another option.  Ignoring that “advice”, I decided that I should keep focusing on how I would achieve my dreams and never lose sight of the goal of becoming a Commercial Pilot, regardless of what people tell me.

For my 18th birthday, I received a voucher from my dads partner (now wife) for a 30 minute trial flight in a Citabria out of Camden Airport (YSCN), near Sydney.  I still remember the flight vividly, being the first time I had ever been in a light aircraft and was amazed at how much fun it was to be freely flying around the areas where I had lived all my life at 2000ft, seeing so many cool things.  I knew then there was nothing else I’d rather do with my life but become a Commercial Pilot.  To this day, I haven’t flown in another taildragger, however, I am open to the idea!

At the end of high school in 2011, I got a job in a bank to earn some money and began flight training out of Bankstown Airport (YSBK) in Sydney, Australia, at the beginning of 2012.  My first flight was in a Piper Archer, registration VH-NRZ and it felt incredible to be in control of an aircraft and how much fun this could potentially be as a career.  Due to finances, I had enough money to do one flight a week in a Piper Warrior, but soon realised that it would take me forever to make any progress and I was forgetting things due to the distance between lessons and not having a lot of time to study at night.  

Towards the end of that year, the Australian Government introduced a loan program that covered the cost of flight training, which would then be paid back upon employment.  Even though the debt would have been around the 100k mark, I begged and convinced my dad that this is what I wanted to do with my life and that banking really wasn’t for me.  After much hesitation, he gave me his blessing to move to Adelaide, Australia to study and fly out of Parafield Airport (YPPF), as at the time that’s where the only school was where loans had been approved for a flight school.

In March 2013, I moved to Adelaide and began my full time studies towards attaining a Commercial Pilot Licence.  Unfortunately, the school was what I considered a pilot factory who trained for both major Airlines as well as Australian loan students and the latter I felt were not the priority.  Training in the Tobago TB10, I enjoyed the aircraft (even if it glides like a brick!) and the different scenery to Sydney, but the school didn’t recognise my previous experience, which meant essentially having to start again, even with 35 hours under my belt.  To me, the school felt disorganised, with all priority for aircraft rental and instructors given to the airline cadets, which often meant the doubling up of flights on a single day to get hours in and large breaks between flight days as a result.

After about 3 months, due to a combination of family issues and unhappiness with the training that I was receiving, I elected to leave the course and returned to Sydney, with my future as a pilot up in the air.

I didn’t fly again for nearly 3 years.  During that time, a couple of months after leaving the school in Adelaide, I got a job with a large technology company on the retail side, whom I still work for today and thoroughly enjoy.  My brother was already working for them at the time and he said it wasn’t a bad place to work, so I applied and was offered a position within a couple of weeks.

I remember feeling pretty miserable, just wishing I was back in the air again.  In 2014, I had a family tragedy involving my mother and decided not to continue my flight training until such a time I was mentally, emotionally and financially ready to commit to my goals again.  I never gave up hope and knew that I would return when I was ready.

In January 2016, I started flying out of Bankstown Airport (YSBK) again towards achieving my PPL, self-funding my training.  This time, I was flying an Aquila A210, a small, German two-seater aircraft with a CSU.  After just over 6 months, I attained my PPL in July 2016 on the second attempt.  Unfortunately, I failed my first check-ride, as the testing officer put the plane in an unusual attitude that I had never experienced before and was told to recover.  I was left completely frozen and this caused me to panic.  After going back out with my CFI for some extra practice, I passed the check-ride two weeks later.

I felt immense satisfaction from having finally seen the results of my training in the form of a PPL, but I knew that achieving my next goal of becoming a Commercial Pilot would be a tough challenge, but one I was willing to give my all to achieve.

After PPL training, I commenced my hour building for my CPL (200 hour course), as well as complete my 7 Australian CPL exams.  I failed my first exam (meteorology) by one mark, which was a hard pill to swallow, but taught me to not be too confident and cocky heading into exams because it could turn around and bite you.  I took some time to regroup, relax and study.  I re-attempted the exam a couple weeks later and got 95%.  I was on my way.  One down, six to go!

Between September 2016 and September 2017, I passed 7 CPL exams (Meteorology, Navigation, Performance and Planning, Aerodynamics, Aircraft General Knowledge, Air Law and Human Factors).  For me, trying to study for and scheduling exams around my full-time work schedule was probably the biggest challenge during my training, resulting in a lot of late nights and trying to find any moment wherever I could to revise content, but I made it work and completed all 7 within a year.

Also during this time, I completed all of my command hour building, the highlight being a 2 week trip in a 1965 Cessna 182H along the east coast of Australia, then through Central Australia to South Australia (back to Parafield!) and returning through regional New South Wales.  My flight came to a total of 30 hours and was an absolute eye opening experience, which didn’t come without its issues.

My vacuum pump failed 15 minutes into the start of the trip (which for VFR flight I was legally allowed to continue without) and went for a further 15 hours without use of an Artificial Horizon or a Directional Gyro, until I took the plane into a maintenance shop in Longreach, Australia (the birthplace of Qantas) for a 50 hour oil change and to get the vacuum pump fixed.  After that, I was again on my way with all instruments serviceable.  

I Had multiple weather issues along the way which required quick thinking to avoid IMC.  One particular example was after stopping at Broken Hill (YBHI) for avgas, I noted the weather, which showed that there were storms and heavy rain predicted for the following 3 days, but that the path down to Parafield (YPPF) looked pretty clear for the remainder of that day.  Instead of overnighting at Broken Hill, I elected to continue on to Parafield to ensure I wouldn’t get stuck.  After departing and crossing the New South Wales/South Australia border, I could see in the distance some isolated cells forming around the areas to the left and right of my path.  I revisited my weather briefing for the area and there was no information regarding bad weather ahead.  After looking at my map and revising my previously chosen alternates, I elected to continue but had a plan in place in the event I had to turn around and land somewhere quickly.  After continuing on I passed the previously seen cells.  With clear skies ahead, I looked behind around 15 minutes later to find the skies completely black and those cells converged with each other.  I will always tell pilots who plan to do a similar trip to make sure you have suitable alternates and escape routes available when flying because you can’t always believe what you read and see on the ground.

After completing my hours and exams, I, unfortunately, couldn’t return to the previous school for the remainder of my CPL training as the aircraft that I had used for PPL training was being returned to another base my school had and there were no other CPL suitable aircraft available.  I then joined another school at Camden Airport (YSCN), near Sydney and flew the Cessna 182T (both G1000 and analog).  I Completed my required instrument hours and a couple of simulated charter navigation flights, which I found to be quite challenging but helped in my understanding about what the real flying world would be like.

I had a pre licence check-ride in December 2017, which I elected to perform after being quite sick the previous week.  In hindsight, it was a bad idea because it was hot, turbulent and windy and I didn’t perform to the high standards that I usually set for myself.  I performed the pre license check-ride again in February 2018 and passed, which meant that I was ready for the big one.  

The CPL check-ride was booked for March 2018, but was rescheduled 3 times due to weather.  I attempted the flight at end of March 2018, but unfortunately failed the first time, I got lost trying to find a tiny town in an area I was unfamiliar with.  About a week later and some very careful flight planning and solo flights to familiarise myself with those areas, I attempted the check-ride again and passed. It was one of the hardest tests I think I will ever do in my life, with lots of challenges thrown my way over the 3.5 hours of flying.

After 6 years, 4 flight schools, approximately 230 hours and countless hours playing Flight Simulator, I finally became a Commercial Pilot.  It has so far been an incredibly crazy journey in Aviation for me, full of wonderful and not so wonderful experiences, however, I wouldn’t change it for the World and I am excited for the opportunities that lie ahead in our ever changing industry!

I’ll be competing my Multi Engine and Instrument Ratings in October 2018, training in the mighty Baron BE55.  From there, I look forward to the journey ahead!

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