南京夜网|南京桑拿网|江苏夜网论坛

Powered by Cnjae!

   Jul 05

Wings

I remember the first time I flew an aircraft solo.
Nanjing Night Net

My palms were sweaty as I guided the Tomahawk around the circuit at Archerfield, just south of Brisbane. The hammering of my heart drowned out the engine’s buzz.

I came in for the landing, concentrating on the runway ahead, knowing this was a defining moment in my life. I touched down with a small bounce and felt tears prickling my eyes as I taxied off the runway. I was euphoric. I’d done something I’d dreamed about since I was a small child watching aircraft take off and land at Coolangatta Airport. It was everything I’d hoped it would be.

That flight was 26 years ago and the joy of flying has never left me. That joy also makes being a pilot with clipped wings even harder to bear.

Two years ago I was grounded with episodes of vertigo – no one wants a dizzy pilot on a flight deck. I remember all too well the last time I flew an aircraft, and the tears I cried as I drove home that night knowing I might never again pit myself against the elements to pilot an aircraft safely to its destination.

The grief is like shards of glass that pierce me at unexpected moments, catching me unawares. Losing something so precious to me, something I worked so hard to achieve, can still be overwhelming. I don’t want to let go of the buzz of flying, the thrill of being airborne. I don’t want to be a mere mortal on the ground. I want to hold on to the memories before they fade.

As a 15-year-old in high school, I watched Australia’s first female commercial pilot, Deborah Wardley, win the right to fly with Ansett, in a much-publicised, landmark case heard by the Victorian Equal Opportunity Board in 1978. Her determination fuelled my ambition to fly.

By the time I started a full-time training course in 1989, women were still in the minority. Flying lessons were also expensive – and challenging – but flying made my heart soar.

Over the following eight years I worked as a flying instructor and have wonderful memories of sending others on their first solo flights, seeing the joy and terror in their faces as they realised this was it, they were on their own.

In 1997 I joined Sunstate Airlines in Cairns as a first officer, flying Twin Otters. Out of 92 pilots, two of us were women. On my first training flight, I saw ribbon-like coral reefs rising out of the azure water below. The emerald summit of Mt Bartle Frere peeked through a layer of cloud. Ahead of us, Dunk Island glowed like a jewel in the Coral Sea, its tiny airstrip a black slash through the rainforest. Someone was paying me to do this?

On one occasion I’d closed the rear door with a full load of passengers when one of the men tapped me on the arm. “Where are you going to sit, love?” he asked. I tried not to laugh as I pointed up the front. “I’m your pilot.”

He still looked unconvinced when he disembarked at Dunk Island.

Knowing that an airline is a vital link for rural communities has been especially rewarding. In times of flood or bushfires in far north Queensland, our flights are the only way in or out of some communities.

Being on nodding terms with regular passengers makes it feel more personal. I loved being part of an all-female crew, because while there are more women flying, it’s still cause for comment, particularly among male passengers.

One gentleman who flies regularly took the time to track me down and tell me he “knew when there was a lady at the controls because the landings were more gentle”.

I’m reminded of what I’ve lost every time I go to an airport. A management role, even with the wonderful team I’ve been privileged to work with, isn’t as uplifting as taking off with a full aircraft and heading for a distant airport somewhere in rural Australia.

Nothing can replace seeing the sunrise over an airport, the air still and heavy with the smell of aviation fuel, the aircraft glowing in the golden light.

I miss the Channel Country where the rivers and creeks look like veins and arteries of our wide land. I miss seeing the blue waters of the Torres Strait.

I miss seeing towering thunderheads flashing lightning as summer storms roll through.

I miss the quiet times when the sun has set and the lights from the control panel cast a soft glow. I miss the camaraderie, the friendships and the laughter. I miss the adrenalin surge when the weather is challenging, knowing that we will land safely and none of our passengers will realise it’s been a difficult flight.

Perhaps the proudest moment for me was pinning the four bars of a captain to the shoulders of a woman I’d taught to fly some years before. It felt as though we’d come on the journey together and I was there to help her take the final step.

She’s now one of our senior captains, still dispensing wisdom with quiet grace. I hope in some small way I’ve helped to give other women the opportunity to spread their wings and soar.

Helene Young’s latest novel is Northern Heat, published by Penguin.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.