De­bra Solomon takes to the skies over the NSW south coast

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel -

ISPEND most of my first fly­ing les­son screech­ing: War­ren, War­ren, take hold of those con­trols!’’ Per­haps my flight in­struc­tor will have the fore­sight to change his name so I can’t call and book an­other les­son with him.

In 40 years of fly­ing, War­ren Gen­gos claims he’s never met any­one who screams quite as much as me. But he didn’t hear me the time I came fly­ing off a mo­tor­bike on a cliff top in Greece. Now that was a scream. Or when a wave hurled me off a surf­board in Hawaii. But when War­ren takes his hands off the (dual) con­trol col­umn af­ter five min­utes of in­struc­tion, it is def­i­nitely just a screech.

I am not all that ner­vous about tak­ing my first fly­ing les­son at Illawarra re­gional air­port in Al­bion Park, just off the Princes High­way, 20 min­utes south of Wol­lon­gong. My drive down the coast from Syd­ney is marked by ex­u­ber­ant singing along to the ra­dio, and the friendly staff in the NSW Air of­fice are here to greet me, as is a red-and-white two-seater Cessna 152.

Th­ese lit­tle air­craft have trained more pi­lots world­wide than any other kind of plane. War­ren and I are soon giv­ing it a thor­ough safety check, as is the rule be­fore any flight. No in­sects in the ex­ter­nal speedo (check), plenty of air in the tyres (check), enough pure fuel (check), wing flaps free to do their thing (check). War­ren’s me­thod­i­cal ex­ter­nal checks are matched by a list of in­ter­nal ones once we are strapped into our seats.

It takes about 10 min­utes but gives me great con­fi­dence in the plane and in War­ren’s pro­fes­sion­al­ism.

We dis­cuss the ef­fi­ciency and pur­pose of each in­stru­ment on the panel in the tiny cock­pit. War­ren is calm and pa­tient an­swer­ing my myr­iad ques­tions. A mo­ment of panic sets in when, by the time we reach the di­als on the right-hand side of the panel, I’ve for­got­ten what the ones on the left-hand side do. But then I re­mem­ber this is merely a taste-and-see half-hour; it’s not my job to know if we are nose-div­ing or be­ing blown out to sea. De­tails, de­tails.

Head­sets on, en­gine on, we’re off. The scenery around Shell­har­bour is spec­tac­u­lar: the es­carp­ment at 3 o’clock, the green pas­tures at 12 o’clock, sparkling sea at 9 o’clock. But this isn’t just a joy flight, and War­ren takes his hands off the con­trols, in­struct­ing me to turn left.

My hands freeze; let the screech­ing be­gin. I plead for War­ren to put his hands back on the con­trols. He makes the turn for us. Not one to be dis­cour­aged, War­ren again takes his hands off the col­umn once I have qui­etened down, and in­structs me to straighten the plane and hold it steady. This I do un­til a gust of wind hits us and screech­ing be­gins again.

My sen­si­tiv­ity to the move­ment is not un­founded; a Cessna 152 weighs in at 500kg and can take about 15 knots cross­wind be­fore it be­comes un­sta­ble. De­spite that, there are only about 10 days of the year when this lit­tle air­craft is earth­bound. It takes sev­eral of th­ese gusts for me to adapt to be­ing buf­feted around without so much as a yelp.

We head out to sea and I’m glad I haven’t worn my coat; I’m so tense I’m sweat­ing. War­ren takes his hands off the con­trols and this time tells me to do the same. No one fly­ing the plane? Def­i­nitely a screech-wor­thy mo­ment.

Even­tu­ally I am calm enough to take my eyes off the hori­zon and look at the gor­geous scenery, views that War­ren says he never tires of. We fly over the wa­ter for a while be­fore we have to turn the plane right and head for home.

Ap­proach­ing the run­way, we re­duce the speed and pull the nose up slightly when we’re par­al­lel with the ground. The land­ing is in­cred­i­bly smooth and I’m al­most dis­ap­pointed the les­son is over.

Back in the of­fice, War­ren tells me about his pas­sion for fly­ing and of pass­ing on his skills to oth­ers. The cock­pit is his of­fice, the stun­ning coastal scenery his daily out­look. Apart from joy flights, char­ter flights and in­tro­duc­tory in­struc­tional flights, NSW Air trains pi­lots to air­line stan­dard.

Of those who try fly­ing once, about 50 per cent re­turn to im­prove their skills. Then there are peo­ple like me, ap­par­ently. And how high did we get? First­timers get up to just over 1000m, but only if they don’t scream. That must have been me; I only screeched. De­bra Solomon was a guest of Shell­har­bour Tourism and NSW Air.

Wings and a prayer: War­ren Gen­gos, Air NSW fly­ing in­struc­tor

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