Saturday 24th March 2018 was a pretty special day in the world of aviation in Australia because the very first commercial flight direct from Perth to London took off! The plane was Qantas’ new Dreamliner, Boeing 787, and one of the pilots was to be woman! So, why should it be special that a woman was a pilot on that inaugural flight? Well, maybe you might think that the choice may have been made for political correctness, ability or good publicity. I think it would have been on ability! The pilot concerned, Lisa Norman, has 29 years experience flying with Qantas! An article on her in our West Australian newspaper confirmed her experience and flying history.
Now, I know women pilots have achieved great and wonderful things in the past. They were so often the pilots who delivered the new fighter aircraft around the UK in the Second World War. And, of course, there were those wonderful women who achieved great historical flights in their days.
Nevertheless, it got me thinking how much things had changed and sent me right back down my own memory lane!
I have always been fascinated by aeroplanes for as long as I can remember. But it just wasn’t ‘done’ for someone like me to have that interest. I remember my brother having scrapbooks and making model planes – I would have enjoyed doing that as well. But in those days I just accepted that it wasn’t for me without analysing it at all –it was a boy thing! My dear Dad once said that they often wanted a little girl who was really girly because I was such a tomboy. Bless him – he didn’t realise you could be both. I love so many feminine things just as much!! But it was no – you can’t join Air Cadets – that’s only for boys and I definitely was not going to be allowed to join the Air Force! Granted my poor eyesight would have probably prevented this but to join at that time I needed my parents’ permission as I was under 21- the magical age of maturity in my day! That was never going to be forthcoming!
So I watched from the sideline…
Fast forward several years and I was now a Mum of four children living in Australia! My first husband (Gordon) was in the RAAF and we had just been posted to Pearce, just north of Perth, in Western Australia.
As we were living so close to the base I often watched the planes. One day, at the weekend, I was watching the skies and saw a glider.
Did I get excited?? I sure did! Maybe this would be my chance. Surely I could learn to fly a glider if I couldn’t do power?
So my husband made some enquiries and a nice club member, called Bob, came to visit to tell me all about it. Wrong, wrong, wrong! Why would he tell me? He promptly proceeded to tell Gordon all about flying gliders. After a while Gordon had had enough! He wasn’t interested at all. So he interrupted to explain it was me who wanted to join. After an uncomfortable wriggle, a slight cough, Bob turned to me and continued to explain everything about the club and gliding!
I was hooked! And off I went….
I loved it! A whole new world – but with a glider not a magic carpet! But many weeks later I was getting a bit frustrated. I didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. Along came my knight in shining armour, or, should I say, a shining glider.
Things were about to change! This new gliding instructor saw that I wasn’t being taught seriously and proceeded to make a difference. He took the group of instructors on duty that day to the pub after flying and gave them a little ‘chat’ about respecting my desire to fly! And things changed from that day on! The momentous day finally arrived and I was sent solo!
Oh, what a magical and amazing moment! My poor heart was thumping and I was shaking like a leaf – could I do this? Yes, I just knew I could!
Several weeks later I became the only woman glider pilot in WA, at that time, to be solo on the wire and areotow! Let me explain the difference. At Pearce we were towed up into the sky – just like a kite – by a huge length of fencing wire which was attached to a Ute which then sped down the runway. When you ran out of wire you released the cable and continued to fly. Aero tow – which was the normal method at the other clubs in WA involved being towed aloft by a Cessna or something similar and when you had reached your desired height you also released and flew away!
The next few years were spent around several gliding clubs in WA. I made so many friends and just had a ball. My children also had a great time and soon became familiar with gliding and flying. They would go off and enjoy themselves with the other kids of the gliding fraternity. My knight in shining armour became a bit more to me – but that’s another story!
I have wonderful memories of sunny days, blue skies, flying through and around fluffy white clouds – so often followed with brilliant evenings around a camp fire enjoying the great company. One of the highlights – and there were quite a few – was being taken for a ride in a Tiger Moth and being allowed to take the controls and fly it myself. And I just loved aerobatics, too. Just awesome!
More years have rolled past and I no longer fly – unless I am going on holiday in a commercial jet! My passion has subsided a little but I still love to visit Air shows and museums. Thankfully, my brother maintained his keenness and we love to go around the UK spending hours looking at planes. Both he and David now fly model aeroplanes. Our house has many pictures and aeroplane ornaments around – delightfully mixed in with my crystal and Disney collections! Who said I wasn’t feminine??
I am planning on returning to the UK for a visit in June this year. And I am so excited. Not only will I get to see the family and friends I have over there but I am going in the Dreamliner, too!! Wonder if there will be a woman thrilled to be flying as a pilot in the cockpit?
I know there will certainly be a woman thrilled to be flying in economy!!!