SportStar-ing it around Australia
My first flight was in a Cessna 152, on my eldest brother’s 10th birthday. He got to go on a flight as a present and, seeing my long face, the pilot took pity and took me for flight. I was about 7 years old, but I still remember with awe seeing my fox terrier dog lying on the lawn in the sun as we flew over our house. It would have been a 10-minute flight—but wow.
At 14 I flew quite a few times, as our family had moved to Darwin in the Northern Territory. My horse-riding instructor was a pilot with a charter airline and flew parts and mail out to stations. It was a great adventure traveling to stations such as Delamare and Victoria River Downs. How could I forget flying over the large cattle feed lot and the experimental growing of sorghum to feed them? After cyclone Tracey destroyed Darwin on Christmas Day, all the horses in the Darwin area were trucked to Tipperary Station. My father and I had to go down to the station with the brands book and draft off the horses for the pony club. What an adventure flying back into Darwin, skirting around tropical thunderstorms, then some low flying around the mangrove areas looking for debris and carcasses from the disaster.
I had many interests and so while the thought of flying never left me, there seemed to be endless opportunities to do other things. Married and in my early twenties, I went for a trial flight in a new Jabiru. Sadly, with three kids and a mortgage (when rates hit 16% in Australia), it was unaffordable to learn to fly. Then came an open day at the local gliding club. Off a winch in a Blanik—how exciting was that! Yes, nearly affordable, so did a total of 12 hours. The spin training was unforgettable. Alas for flying, kid number four came along, work was more intense, and I decided to do a university degree part time so I could continue to work. No time or money.
My elder brother shared my passion for flight and obtained his pilot’s licence. Envious? You bet. Unfortunately, we lived hundreds of kilometres apart, so I didn’t fly with him often. One of his great mates was an aerobatic pilot. Now that’s experience you will never forget: having a spin (and I mean a spin in a Pitts Special!). As an agribusiness consultant I did get to fly quite a bit, both with airlines and charter. Every charter flight was memorable and would bring back the hankering of, “I really want to do this one day.” One memorable flight took place in a King Air on a trip to the US, sitting up front with an Aussie pilot. But owning my own business and intensive farm just took all my time.
The really “want to do this one day” day finally came, but not at my instigation. I sold my farming interests and was working as project manager five and a half days week. My wife had stopped working, so she took over all domestic chores. After being used to doing something seven days a week, I developed a habit of saying “I’m bored” about 15 minutes after getting home Saturday at lunchtime. My wife, bless her heart, bought me a Trial Instruction Flight voucher at the local flying school. That was it. Not only did I get my licence, I made a new friend—the CFI.
Before I had finished my licence, I was a proud owner of a Evektor Sportstar. I cross hire it to the flying school, where it gets used for the navigation training, and this pays for the fixed costs of hangarage and insurance.
This has opened up a new world for my wife and me. While I would never plan to fly if it was an essential birthday party of one of our 13 grandchildren, out of fear of getting a dose of get-there-itis, what a great blessing to wake up, look out the window and say, “let’s bomb in on some of the grandies.”
“Which ones?” the wife would say.
“Let me check the weather.” I’m flying a Sportstar; tailwinds are important!
All the family is within 2-3 hours flying time. A dash up to Waikerie, flying over the Coonawarra Vineyards and the Mallee grain producing districts, means I am greeted by the Murray River and Riverland vineyards and citrus orchards.
I approach over the river to eagerly awaiting grandchildren, spend the day and am home that evening. There might be a dash to Echuca across the edge of the Grampians Ranges—spectacular from the air—the Wimmera grain districts again to the dairy irrigation districts approaching Echuca. Perhaps even on to Henty to see another group of grandies.
I might take the coastal route to Adelaide over the unique Coorong mouth of the mighty Murray and sneak under the C class airspace into Gawler, keeping the eyes peeled for the gliders that utilise the strip. Family and grandchildren at every destination.
Maybe let’s have a day together and fly to the coastal town of Robe and walk in and have lunch, taking in the beautiful view of the coast and lakes along the way. There are stunning, contrasting greens of pasture and multitudes of deep green pine forests. Always a welcome sight, the volcanic Blue Lake and its eerie iridescent blue is on the way back home to the Mount Gambier airport.
We have had some adventures flying across the vast expanses of station country to Broken Hill, seeing the Murray Darling system at its worst. Rivers turned to puddles and lakes dry. Vast stations are measured in square miles devoid of stock and the only green splotches are around the station residences. The drought has broken and it’s time to fly the area again and see all its beauty.
Our 40th wedding anniversary is coming up, so I am planning a trip to Kangaroo Island off the coast of South Australia and then to Yorke’s Peninsula and across to Streaky Bay. Then it will be across the outback and salt lakes to the famous Wilpena Pound and Flinders Ranges. Then on to Broken Hill to see the changes with the drought-breaking rains over the Murray-Darling System.
When I am not flying or reading about flying, I am planning trips using the Oz Runways app. When the COVID thing breaks, we will be off. The little Sportstar has flown around Australia once with her previous owner and she will be doing it again in the future.
Flying: what a wonderful privilege and blessing to be able to fly and have a wife eager to share the experiences. Cherish every moment and share it with all you can. I hope all who aspire to fly finally get to, just as I have been fortunate enough too.