The flight of the aviator is one that pushes through to the vast and endless outer rims of the skies, making the once intangible imagination tangible for all those who daydream. It is the pilots – navigators of the sky – that remind us all through their voyage above the clouds that the impossible is possible and our wildest imaginations are forever realistic.
Verse was lucky to catch up with one of these high flyers, Cameron Sanders, a student studying a Bachelor of Aviation (Pilot) and a Graduate Diploma in Aviation. He spoke on the trials and tribulations of flying and what it is like to have one’s imaginations evolve into reality.
Aviation was not really something that occurred to me during high school. I have always had an interest in engineering and how things work, but aviation was not something I had been exposed to as a realistic opportunity.
All through high school I intended on studying engineering at university, but then I was at a university course day at the Adelaide Convention Centre and I found a University of South Australia booth on aviation. I did not even realise there was a university course for it, but, the fact that there was made, it a bit more realistic for me. I looked into what it would entail and went on a couple of joy flights just to see how much I liked flying. I knew that I liked flying in large airliner type aircraft but I knew that, if I got into it, it would be a lot of smaller aircraft I would have to fly initially. After I got a couple of flights doing that, that is when I realised I liked it because to me it was a good hobby and the fact I could be paid to do it blew my mind.
I just thought it was a really cool idea and Uni SA really made it realistic for me.
What is the process like to become a pilot?
There is no one process and it really depends on what sort of a pilot you want to be. If you assume that by pilot you mean professionally, everyone has got to have a commercial pilot licence and then on top of that you get ratings to do different things. So, if you want to fly an airliner you need an Air Transport Pilot Licence on top of your commercial pilot licence. You need instrument ratings. You need multiengine ratings. But if you just want to fly charter flights or sky diving or shark patrol, then it is just your commercial pilot license.
It is essentially a more in-depth version of getting a driver’s licence. Instead of doing a theory test, you are doing seven theory tests on subjects including aerodynamics, meteorology, human factors, aircraft general knowledge, air law, operations and navigation. You have to pass each of those seven exams and then do a flight test where you take [an instructor] for a navigation flight. Essentially, they are just seeing that you are able to do what you need to do on everyday charter flights. Once you have that, you can do other ratings to broaden what else you can do.
Do you find conversation with friends and family a bit different now that you are pilot? Are you ever flanked with questions about flying?
People always ask, “how many hours do you need to have?” or “how many hours are you trying to get?”, but it is not actually based on how many hours you need. Yeah, you have got to do the 70 hours as “pilot in command” (solo) and then have a total aeronautical experience of 150 hours (including flights with your instructor) to then do your test, but it is not like I am working towards a certain number of hours and then be a pilot as a result. It is mainly constant development and I think that is what is hardest to explain to people every time.
I think people are just sort of amazed by it, the same way I was amazed when I first started flying. I think maybe everyone, to some extent, is interested in flying because we are not naturally supposed to do it.
What does a typical morning look like when you go out for a flight?
I rock up an hour or two before [the flight], assess the winds, work out my headings and do all of the flight planning. Then I will head out to operations and get the maintenance release book and keys, go to the aircraft, clean the windshield, do a pre-flight (which is just walking around the aircraft to make sure everything is in order), check the fuel and do a fuel drain to make sure there is no water in it and it is clean. Then, once I have checked over the aircraft, I come back inside. Essentially, I talk [the instructor] through the whole flight. Whether it is solo or a dual, you still tell them everything that is going to happen. You brief them on the weather and once they have okayed that, you will head back out to the aircraft. If it is solo, your instructor has to check over the aircraft as well. You taxi to a runup bay, which is essentially where you run the engine through a few different processes to check that everything is running properly. You set up everything for take-off, like flaps, fuel pumps and lights. Then you taxi to a runway whilst doing radio calls the whole way. If you are intending to go into Adelaide controlled airspace after taking off, then you need a personal squawk code so you can be identified on radar. Then… take off; departing out to your waypoints, doing radio calls and practising some take off and landings at another airfield on route.
On the way back you may divert or practice turns and forced landings. And during the whole procedure, you have to fill out a navigation log. So, you are tracking where you are at each point in time and estimating when you are going to be at your next waypoint and changing over two separate fuel tanks at specific intervals to make sure the aircraft remains in balance. There is always something to do on the way, because you are navigating by visual flight rules and always looking at the ground to make sure you are where you need to be.
What are the typical challenges faced by a pilot on their flight path?
It depends what your strengths are. Multitasking is probably the biggest challenge. Communications with controllers and other aircraft can be quite difficult, especially when you are doing circuits at another aerodrome.
Weather is always changing, so sometimes I will get 10 minutes into my flight and come across some weather I cannot go past. So, I have to divert or just turn around and come back. It is those sorts of things that are thrown at you that you are not expecting.
Then the other thing that changes is we practise diversions. It is essentially how we would divert if we had bad weather. Our instructor will give us a piece of paper that we are only allowed to read when we are at a certain point [of the flight]. It tells us, instead of going to our destination, [to] divert to another place and do something else. So, while you are travelling along you have got to completely restructure what you are going to do. You have to map out a new course, draw it on, get bearings to the new place and then notify air traffic control to let them know you are going somewhere else.
Even if you are comfortable, your instructor will make sure you feel uncomfortable to prepare you for when things do not go to plan.
Is there anything that really inspires you to fly?
Honestly, when I wake up at 4:30am for a flight, it can be a struggle to motivate myself. I just want to be in bed like anyone else. Even leading up to the flight I am so stressed and second guessing if I have got everything prepared.
But, as soon as I push the throttle forward and actually get up in the sky, I feel so comfortable. Everything else I was worried about just disappears and I realise that I know exactly what I am doing. And then, once I get comfortable, I can stop and enjoy it for a minute. Especially when you get those nice morning departures – when it is smooth and the aircraft is pretty much flying itself – you just get a second to enjoy it.
What kind of career path are you planning to pursue as a pilot?
I tried the Air Force, but I was too tall. They have a limit of 193 centimetres. Also, my legs are too long and that is based on how the ejector seat would not work properly if I needed it. So, I could not go into the Air Force which is a bit disappointing.
The end goal is to fly airliners; doing international stuff. I would like to do that as soon as possible because international flying fits in a bit better with your life when you are younger. Then when I am older, I want do more domestic flying.
Whilst doing all that for a job though, I want to still be doing my own thing. I would like to own my own plane; just getting different little endorsements to fly aerobatic aircraft and actually enjoy different aspects of aviation outside of work. I have talked to a few pilots that say once you are in the airliners you kind of realise that smaller, general aviation is more fun. So, I want to make sure I am able to do that at the same time.
Do you have a favourite model of plane?
I like different models for different reasons. Like the Tabago TB10 is really deep in my heart because it is the first plane I flew and it represents where I come from. Then the airliners like a Triple 777 or an A350 represent where I want to go. They are all so different but I like them for very different reasons.
If you could fly any plane in history, what plane would it be and why?
I would like to fly any World War Two plane, just to see how incredibly difficult they are to fly. They were just not as ergonomic as most modern planes. Modern planes are made to work with the pilot whereas planes of that era were built to do a job and the pilots had to just work in with that job. But I find it so crazy that pilots were just being sent off to war in these planes with minimal hours. To just put myself in their shoes and imagine how they would have dealt with the situation… I imagine it would have made for some really good pilots.
After you finish your degree, what does your perfect day out flying look like?
A perfect day out looks like… me with a few close friends. Girlfriend. A four- or six-seater twin engine. Taking off in the morning. Nice and smooth. Flying to nowhere in particular, but just like a casual ‘oh, let’s go check out this place’ (and you can get there so quickly in a plane). We would land, do whatever [we] want to do and leave when we want to leave. The freedom of it, I think, is the thing I look forward to the most.
Our theme of Verse in this edition is Pure Imagination, so does flying unlock a sense of freedom in your thoughts?
Definitely, yeah. It makes everything feel a lot closer. It makes everything feel more realistic.
Interview by Nahum Gale
Cover image by Mikayla Graham