April 13, 2006
I am back from a wonderful vacation in Australia. I highly recommend a trip there if ever you have the chance to visit. During the trip I had several occasions to think about aviation. How can you not when you lift off in a 747 from Los Angeles for a 14+ hour flight that is over the Pacific Ocean for all but 15 minutes of the flight to Sydney?
I had recently read about Australian Aviation Hero Charles Kingsford Smith who was the first to fly across the pacific in 1928. He was an aviator that has largely been overlooked by many historians despite many remarkable accomplishments. One that came to mind while flying to Australia was his flight in the Southern Cross, a Fokker FVIIb-3m with Wright Whirlwind engines, from Oakland to Hawaii on to Fiji then the final leg to Brisbane, Australia. In 1928 it took him over 3 days of flying spread out over nine days. We made our flight in fourteen hours in the comfort of a United Boeing 747.
After arriving in Sydney we had a brief layover before departing for Melbourne. I took the opportunity to head upstairs to the flight deck and introduce myself to the pilots who showed me around the cockpit before our flight. It was fun to see the view from the cockpit of this enormous plane. The pilot mentioned that prior to 9/11 knowing I was a pilot they would have invited me up to the cockpit to enjoy the flight, now that would have been a great time.
Australia is an active country in which the Australians make sure to enjoy their passions whether it be footy, rugby, running, motor sports or flying. While driving the Great Ocean Road near Melbourne (an absolutely amazing and beautiful drive). We came across about 8-10 hang gliders floating over a mountain ridge along the ocean. They must have had the most amazing views. Driving a little further we came across their beach front landing zone. I think I might have to give that type of flying a try some time.
While in the Outback we visited the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) Museum in Alice Springs. The RFDS is a not-for-profit charitable service that provides emergency and primary health care services to people who are in remote areas of Australia. Australia is a vast nation with many of the people living in remote locations and the only way for them to receive primary and emergency health care is via airplane. Annually, the RFDS attends to nearly 200,000 patients and provides over 25,000 aerial evacuations using their 40 aircraft fleet.
The RFDS museum is located at the Alice Springs Base one of 22 in Australia. You get to view the operations center from which they plan their scheduled daily flights to provide clinics in different regions of the Northern Territory and where when necessary emergency flights are planned.
Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to do any flying of my own while in Australia. I can imagine it would be a great place to be a private pilot. National Geographic has an interesting article online about Tom Clynes who learned to fly on a 1,700 mile aerial tour of Eastern Australia.
During our return flight from Sydney we learned that this was the final flight for the Captain as he would be retiring after a 21 year career with United Airlines. Upon arrival into Los Angeles the L.A. Fire Department provided a water cannon salute to the Captain and his 747 in honor of his career. Water cannon salutes are a tradition for the completion of a commercial pilotís last flight.
Speaking of flying, I reserved a plane for tomorrow night and am looking forward to doing some flying of my own. I plan to fly out of Schaumburg in the same Cessna 172 that I flew last time. This plane is equipped with GPS navigation and autopilot both I which I look forward to becoming better familiarized with.