In the first of our series of SFT Stories we hear from Peter Dugdale who describes the challenges of a return to flying after a 32-year hiatus and a move to the other side of the world.
Returning to Flying
I’m not sure what first sparked the idea, but after a 32-year break, I decided to see if I could revitalise my dormant pilot’s licence. Not only had it been an age since I last flew, but I had also changed country in the meantime, adding to the complexity. Before my extended break I had held a UK PPL with a Multi Engine endorsement and an IMC rating, which is similar to the Australian PIFR endorsement. I launched myself at the CASA website, but where to start
In my case I was striving to convert my UK PPL to the Australian equivalent and at the heart of that process is the CASA form 61-4A, but what I failed to appreciate at the start, was that there are many tasks that have to be completed before the application can be submitted, both in Australia and in my case, in the UK. To describe the entire process here would take several pages and would not make interesting reading, so suffice to say it took several months, but finally I received my full Australian PPL.
I was keen to start training and visited several flight schools before settling on SFT, which I chose because I was warmly welcomed on arrival and received some very helpful and constructive advice from the outset. I immediately felt comfortable and at-home in the hangar. I was also lucky enough to be assigned to an instructor who had come to aviation later in his career, and who had previous work experience that allowed us to instantly ‘click’, as we shared things in common in addition to flying. Together we set about finding out what I remembered and what I didn’t, and what skills I retained and what had been lost in the passing of so much time.
It felt fantastic being back in the air again and I was surprised how natural it all seemed, once again being at the controls of an aircraft. I won’t pretend that it was like I had never been away, I was very rusty, I was stiff and it took me time to get back into any sort of rhythm, but it started to fall into place quite quickly. That wasn’t the case with everything outside the plane! I had never flown in Australia, and that, combined with everything I had forgotten about UK airspace, meant I pretty much had to start from scratch. That took a lot of reading and a good deal of hard work, and of course that process never stops and I’m still continuing to improve my knowledge every day. I was in no rush to reach any particular milestone, because I was enjoying every lesson and I didn’t want to take charge of an aircraft again until I was very sure that I was fully competent.
What came as a complete revelation was how advances in technology had impacted aviation. When I was last flying there were no mobile phones, no world wide web, and I had not realised how the emergence of these technologies had contributed to flight safety in the twenty first century. This created yet another steep learning curve for me, as I schooled myself in EFBs and the way these tools contribute to flight planning and to situational awareness in the cockpit.
It took around twenty hours of flight training before I felt confident that I could captain an aircraft safely on my own and would not be a danger to myself or to others. I fluffed a few things during my initial flight review and I felt strangely nervous at having my competence tested for the first time in so many years. After a bit of remedial flying, feeling much more relaxed, I took a second flight review and this time managed to complete everything successfully.
Most of my flying had historically been around southern England, including a few trips over the channel to France, after which I spent some time flying in Hong Kong, during the days when the only airport for use by everyone, the airlines and GA, was Kai Tak, with its famous dog-leg approach. That was an exciting time! But nothing compares to piloting an aircraft at 1500’ in crystal clear blue skies, over some of the most iconic structures in the world. My first flight around Sydney harbour, over the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, left a smile on my face that lasted a whole week. What a privilege it is to be allowed to take to the skies as pilot in command!
Are you a rusty pilot? Whether you haven’t flown for a few months or a few years, Sydney Flight Training can help out. Learn more about our Rusty Pilot course here.