Feet firmly on the ground
FRANK Fesche built model aircraft as a boy growing up in New Zealand.
However he didn’t realise that this idle childhood hobby would result in a passion and career in aviation.
Frank’s father was a share milker so the family moved from dairy farm to dairy farm around the North Island for all of his primary school years.
He admits it was a “brilliant childhood”, nomadic and living on farms.
By the time he was of high school age, the family had settled in Silverstream, a township just north of Wellington but Frank only attended high school for a year.
“I only went to school to play rugby,” he laughed. “I left school at 15 and got a job at a plastics factory.”
“I thought I was in heaven with all the young girls on the production line,” he said.
The urge to leave home was great, so, at 16, Frank took himself down to a military recruitment centre at Wellington; as the only person available to speak to was from the air force, he sat an aptitude and IQ test with him.
“I found out that I had a brain,” Frank joked, “and I signed up to the air force for eight years.”
Basic training was a struggle for Frank — “all that marching and discipline was mindless” – but in due course he was transferred to the Royal New Zealand Air Force base at Ohakea.
Although he was a general dogsbody, sweeping and cleaning, he discovered that being among the large aircraft was just where he belonged.
“I used to stand at the hanger doors and just watch the planes,” Frank said. “I soon realised I needed to get back to school so as I could get more involved with them.”
Frank worked hard at his studies, which was done by correspondence. When he didn’t understand something, he would head to the library to find out.
He qualified as an aviation engineer, learnt to fly and got his commercial licence although he never flew for the air force.
A self-confessed adrenaline junkie, Frank took up skydiving where he used the facilities not only to become the New Zealand champion four times, but to get his flying hours up for his credentials.
“I guess I had a natural skill with skydiving,” Frank said.
“I ended up representing New Zealand twice at the world championships.”
Frank met wife, Sue, a nurse, while skydiving although Sue was not the “addict” he was, having done only 10 jumps in all.
“We got married in 1969 — I jumped into the wedding,” Frank laughed, “and we got a fair bit of media coverage.”
His career with the air force took him around the world; his specialty in engineering was Rolls Royce and Pratt and Whitney jet engines.
Hankering for a flying job, Frank serendipitously received a phone call from a local airfreight company offering his a pilot position.
So after 28 years of military service, Frank left the air force, and, after type rating, his first job was flying a CV580 from Canada to New Zealand.
“I thought ‘hallelujah I’ve made it!’,” he said. “I was finally a pilot and with a command.”
Frank was very involved with physical pursuits including karate, scuba and marathon running.
“I eventually got bored with flying in New Zealand,” Frank said. “I saw an ad calling for pilots in Europe so I applied.”
Although he was called “frigging mad” by many of his friends and colleagues, Frank took the job with DHL Freight and he and Sue packed up and moved to Belgium.
Some of Frank’s routes took him into dangerous locations; he spent nine months flying a Boeing 727 (Frank’s favourite) into Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I flew into Bagdad one morning and that afternoon a DHL plane was shot down,” he said. “But I loved the danger.”
DHL Europe was an American company but was sold to Deutsche Post, by then Frank was flying the Airbus A300.
When it came time to retire, he and Sue wanted to go where they “were never going to be cold again”.
Sue’s sister had moved to Port Douglas several years before and Frank and Sue had visited; Frank used the opportunity to scuba dive on the Reef so that’s where they decided to settle.
In 2009, they bought a place at Oak Beach, Feline Mountain Resort, where they run a boarding cattery.
“It was a great opportunity to still have an income running the cattery and Sue still works as a midwife,” Frank said.
“I love staying active, cycling and doing triathlons,” he explained. “I did the 2015 Cairns Iron Man in 13 hours and 1 minute.”
Having had a triple bypass two years ago, Frank is still passionate about staying fit and maintaining their one hectare property is part of his regime.
“Living at Oak Beach is great — a great community where people are nearby to help out,” he said.
With three adult children settled and doing well, Frank said “I’m just chilling now”.
Frank Fesche is a former DHL pilot who now stays active cycling (inset) and completing triathlons.