My First Work Adventure: Flight Training In Outback QLD

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The trip to Cunnamulla’s purpose was to conduct flight training for a couple of outback cattle station owners. This was so they could fly their aircraft around their properties.

I turned up to the airport at Moruya and what greeted me was a whole lot of luggage, laid around the cargo hold of our Seneca. It’s a good thing I’m a former child champion of Tetris. As you are probably aware, there is nothing more exciting than going for a holiday with your boss and his family. I embodied that enthusiasm as we hopped in and headed 5 hours into outback Queensland.

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Left: Sheldon & Linn start to load up the Seneca. Right: Cruising above the clouds on our way to Cunnamulla

Not knowing what to expect, we landed in Cunnamulla on a 2 kilometre, bitumen runway. That was already an improvement on what I had envisioned in my mind. The first person we met was Hugh; the owner of many cattle farms, looking to get a start on his flight training. Considering the size of his properties, its understandable he didn’t want to drive (could probably get to Perth faster than driving to his silo).

You’d think my worst nightmare going into the bush would be snakes, spiders, getting lost in the middle of nowhere. You’d be wrong. My worst nightmare was being given a manual car. Unfortunately that nightmare became a reality when I was handed the keys and saw the dreaded gear stick. Luckily for me, the first night was being spent with Sheldon and his family so he took the wheel. He was also nice enough to offer me some driving instructing lessons, to which I am forever grateful because now I can drive a manual! Just have to add it to my list of endorsements.

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The long, dusty drive to the farm

So the drive turned out to be a couple hours East of the airport further into the outback. The directions given for the drive were no more detailed than a McDonalds find-a-way maze. But hey, we made it (albeit avoiding the occasional emu, kangaroo or cow). Steve and Flip greeted us at the gate; they were a lovely couple that kept Sheldon & Linn’s kids entertained for the duration of the 10day trip. Something that I’m sure Linn was thankful for.

My first morning in outback QLD was an eventful one. Sheldon flew back to Cunnamulla with Anthony (another cattle farmer looking to get a navigation endorsement), and I was to meet him back there. It took me less than an hour of country manual driving before I stalled and bogged the car. I now know that driving through a deep pool of water isn’t advisable. Anthony was forced to drive back to his shed, 2 kilometres away, to get a towing chain. Once my embarrassment settled, the car was recovered and I was on my way to Cunnamulla, only stalling once every half an hour.

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FYI: Don’t get bogged if you can help it

My task for the 10day outback QLD flight training trip, was to get Hugh to reach his Recreational Pilots Licence. He has been surrounded by aviation his entire life, his mum and his wife are pilots. Coming into it, he was very keen. Always wanting to get up early in the morning in order to beat the heat and inevitable heavy winds. Unfortunately, even waking up with the roosters wasn’t early enough sometimes. We had 2-3days of horrible weather, forcing us to focus on some theory instead.

Nonetheless we soldiered on. Turning, stalling, circuits, circuits, circuits and more circuits until he was ready for his first solo flight, which he landed safe and soundly (all thanks to his awesome instructor). Once that was done, it was time for a group navigation exercise to pick up a Foxbat from Ivanhoe.

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Congratulating Hugh after his first solo (I’m on the right)

Anthony, Sheldon, Hugh and myself went in Hugh’s Cessna 172 on the 2.5hr flight down to a local airstrip. For those of you who don’t know, four people in a Cessna means you cannot take full fuel. What does that mean? A lot of flight planning. We calculated that we’d have to refuel in Cobar on the way down and on the way back. It was certainly tight on the way down, it’s a good thing my maths skills are up to scratch. Outback NSW was very green, a lot of flooded land that lent itself to a beautiful landscape. The strip in Ivanhoe was barely wide enough for the 172 to land on. Once we landed, Hugh and I didn’t wait around. We quickly ate our lunch and headed back home, trying to beat the end of daylight. The flight home was done at 8500ft, in perfect conditions. We managed to get Sheldon and Anthony on the radio just after Cobar. The Foxbat’s cruise speed is about 80kts (150kmh) and with the headwind on the way home, it was a slow journey for them.

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Outback QLD dirt landing strips

In the end, Hugh couldn’t completely finish his flight training. We fell about 4-5 flights short (stupid weather). He did manage to obtain his Recreational Pilot Licence by continuing his flight training in Cowra, 3 weeks later. Anthony managed to get his navigation endorsement and will be using it to buzz around his various properties.

The trip was very enjoyable, despite the culture shock for the boy from Bondi. I’m very much looking forward to my next outback QLD trip flight training trip in the future.