Feet firmly on the ground

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - NEWS LOOKING BACK -

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.

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