Tuesday, 20 May 2008


I don't like flying. I’ve never added the total time I’ve spent in the air but it must number in many hundreds of hours. Possibly I have more air miles than some junior pilots. Most of my travelling occurred in the 1990’s to a remote mine site in the Tanami Desert. The mining company maintained a minimal presence after closing the mine and I was one of about 10 men who worked out there on a six week on two week off roster. We flew out in five-seater Cessna’s and other tiny single engine aircraft.

One of these tacked together shit-heaps took about 4 hours to get there and we had to fly low so we wouldn’t suffocate. If it happened to be the wet season build-up we were sure to suffer the bumpiest scariest trip known to man. Flying towards looming black thunderheads with headwinds that slowed us to a standstill then seeing lightning shrieking past the window close enough to touch were common experiences.

Our pilots were kids. The small fly-by-night (hahahaha) airlines our mining company used snapped up all the inexperienced pilots while they were trying to get their air hours up to fly for the big airlines. We got different pilots regularly as they were sacked or promoted.

We got lost a lot. One of my workmates would never sleep on the plane. Not that sleeping was an easy pastime on the bucking bronco ride. He’d watch the ground for tell-tale roads and communities then let the pilot know how far off course he was. We watched the pilot a lot too as they turned their maps around and around trying to make sense of where they were in the featureless desert. They’d tap their gauges like I used to in my Torana. If I ran out of fuel in my Torana I coasted to a stop. I wasn’t as confident we could do that from several thousand feet up. And run out of fuel they did.

I do remember one time a pilot forgot to change tanks over and next thing we know the engine’s coughing and his panic-stricken hands are everywhere. We got going again and, when politely asked, the red-faced pilot mumbled something about not opening a valve.

One flight almost ended in disaster when the pilot landed on the old airstrip at the mine. Trouble was, months before it had been ripped from end to end with a bulldozer for revegetation. Imagine a ploughed field. He actually landed the plane on it. I think he should have had his wings taken off him for the screw up then given back again for pulling it off without killing everyone. I wasn’t on that flight, maybe that’s why I can afford to be magnanimous.

So there are several good reasons why I shouldn’t enjoy flying right there. These days all my flights are on commercial airlines and I still hate every part of it. The not-knowing if your ticket is valid until you get there, the overblown security that forces people to strip every tiny metal particle from their bodies or suffer humiliating searches, the waiting, the crushing in of as many people into the tiniest space possible, the lost baggage and screwed up connections. It all stresses me out. I keep it inside of course. Wouldn’t like to make an embarrassing scene now, would I?

I’m usually tightly wound by the time we land. The wrong person bumping into me or coughing in my face better watch out for the windmill fists of death. Then I usually have to face a nice long drive through heavy rush hour traffic in strange cities. It’s merely another of life’s tortures. There’s little wonder I am known to lose my cool at times. Unlike the plane, at least I am in control of the vehicle which helps a bit. That’s a matter of opinion, isn’t it Mum?

Apologies to the wife for shouting but, READ THE MAP, DAMMIT, and don't add ‘maybe’ every time you give me directions. And don't tell me ‘that’s it!’ as the only exit for the next twenty kays tears past on the opposite side of a four lane highway. I’ve gotta have reaction times like Garth Tander while driving a poxy four cylinder hire car with less engine capacity than a carton of milk.

Robin and I have similar opinions about flying. Our solution, which we worked out on the Vanuatu trip, would be to knock us the hell out as we enter the airport and reawaken us at the other end. Damn straight. (Note: We prefer pharmaceuticals but if required we will accept a punch in the head.)

(Like it? See - Toyota Prius)

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