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- 3 March 2014, 07:03

Dear Bill,

I’m writing to you because I need your help to get me flamin’ pilot’s licence back. You keep telling me you got  all the right contacts. Well now’s your chance to make something happen for me because, mate, I’m bloody desperate.


But first, I’d better tell you what happened during my last flight review with the CASA Examiner. On the phone, Ron (that’s the CASA feller), seemed a reasonable sort of a bloke. He politely reminded me of the need to do a flight review every two years. He even offered to drive out, have a look over my property and let me operate from my own strip. Naturally I agreed to that. Anyway, Ron turned up last Wednesday.

First up, he said he was a bit surprised to see my plane on a small strip outside my homestead, because the authorized landing area is about a mile away. I explained that because this strip was so close to the homestead, it was more convenient than the “ALA,” and despite the power lines crossing about midway down the strip, it’s really not a problem to land and take-off, because at the halfway point down the strip you’re usually still on the ground.

For some reason Ron, seemed nervous. So, although I had done the pre-flight inspection only four days earlier, I decided to do it all over again. Because the examiner was watching me carefully, I walked around the plane three times instead of my usual two. My effort was rewarded because the colour finally returned to Ron’s cheeks. In fact, they went a bright red. In view of Ron’s obviously better mood, I told him I was going to combine the test flight with some farm work, as I had to deliver three poddy calves from the home paddock to the main herd. After a bit of a chase I finally caught the calves and threw them into the back of the ol’ Cessna 172. We climbed aboard but Ron, started getting onto me about weight and balance calculations and all that crap. Of course I knew that sort of thing was a waste of time because calves like to move around a bit particularly when they see themselves 500-feet off the ground! So, it’s pointless trying to secure them as you know. However, I did tell Ron that he shouldn’t worry as I always keep the trim wheel set on neutral to ensure we remain pretty stable at all stages throughout the flight.

Anyway, I started the engine and cleverly minimised the warm-up time by tramping hard on the brakes and gunning her to 2,500 RPM. I then discovered that Ron has very acute hearing, even though he was wearing a flamin’ headset. Through all that noise he detected a metallic rattle and demanded I account for it. Actually it began about a month ago and was caused by a screwdriver that fell down a hole in the floor and lodged in the fuel selector mechanism. The selector can’t be moved now, but it doesn’t matter because it’s jammed on “All tanks,” so I reckon that’s OK. However, as Ron was obviously a nit-picker, I blamed the noise on vibration from a stainless steel thermos flask which I keep in a beaut little possie between the windshield and the magnetic compass. My explanation seemed to relax Ron, because he slumped back in the seat and kept looking up at the cockpit roof.

I released the brakes to taxi out, but unfortunately the plane gave a leap and spun to the right. “Hell” I thought, “not the starboard wheel chock again”. The bump jolted Ron back to full alertness. He looked around just in time to see a rock thrown by the prop-wash disappear completely through the windscreen of his brand new Commodore. “Now I’m really in trouble”, I thought…

While Ron was busy ranting about his car, I ignored his requirement that we taxi to the ALA, and instead took off under the power lines. Ron didn’t say a word, at least not until the engine started coughing right at the lift off point, and then he bloody screamed his head off. “Oh God! Oh God! Oh God!”. “Now take it easy Ron”, I told him firmly. “That often happens on take-off and there is a good reason for it”. I explained patiently that I usually run the plane on standard MOGAS, but one day I accidentally put in a gallon or two of kerosene. To compensate for the low octane of the kerosene, I siphoned in a few gallons of high octane MOGAS and shook the wings up and down a few times to mix it up. Since then, the engine has been coughing a bit but in general it works just fine, if you know how to coax it properly. Anyway, at this stage Ron seemed to lose all interest in my test flight.

Anyhow, on levelling out, I noticed some wild camels heading into my improved pasture. I hate bloody camels, and always carry a loaded 303, clipped inside the door of the Cessna just in case I see any of the bastards. We were too high to hit them, but as a matter of principle, I decided to have a go through the open window. Mate, when I pulled the bloody rifle out, the effect on Ron was electric. As I fired the first shot his neck lengthened by about six inches and his eyes bulged like a rabbit with myxo. He really looked as if he had been jabbed with an electric cattle prod on full power. In fact, Ron’s reaction was so distracting that I lost concentration for a second and the next shot went straight through the port tyre. Ron was a bit upset about the shooting (probably one of those pinko animal lovers I guess) so I decided not to tell him about our little problem with the tyre.

Shortly afterwards I located the main herd and decided to do my fighter pilot trick. Ron had gone back to praying when, in one smooth sequence, I pulled on full flaps, cut the power and started a sideslip from 5000 feet at 130 knots indicated (the last time I looked anyway) and the little needle rushed up to the red area on me ASI. What a buzz, mate! About half way through the descent I looked back in the cabin to see the calves gracefully suspended in mid-air and mooing like crazy. I was going to comment to Ron on this unusual sight, but he looked a bit green and had rolled himself into the foetal position and was screamin’ his  head off. Mate, talk about being in a bloody zoo. You should’ve been there, it was so bloody funny! At about 500 feet I levelled out, but for some reason we kept sinking. When we reached about 100 feet, I applied full power but nothing happened. No noise no nothin’. Then, luckily, I heard me instructor’s voice in me head saying “carb heat, carb heat”. So I pulled carb heat on and that helped quite a lot, with the engine finally regaining full power. Whew, that was real close, let me tell you! Then mate, you’ll never guess what happened next! As luck would have it, at that height we flew into a massive dust cloud caused by the cattle and suddenly went I.F. bloody R, mate. You would have been really proud of me as I didn’t panic once, not once, but I did make a mental note to consider an instrument rating as soon as me gyro is repaired (something I’ve been meaning to do for a while now).

Suddenly Ron’s elongated neck and bulging eyes reappeared. His mouth opened very wide,        but no sound emerged. “Take it easy,” I told him, “we’ll be out of this in a minute”. Sure enough, about a minute later we emerged, still straight and level and still at 50 feet. Admittedly I was surprised to notice that we were upside down, and I kept thinking to myself, “I hope Ron didn’t notice that I had forgotten to set the QNH when we were taxiing”. This minor tribulation forced me to fly to a nearby valley in which I had to do a half roll to get upright again. By now the main herd had divided into two groups leaving a narrow strip between them. “Ah!” I thought, “there’s an omen. We’ll land right there”. Knowing that the tyre problem demanded a slow approach, I flew a couple of steep turns with full flap. Soon the stall warning horn was blaring so loud in me ear that I cut its circuit        breaker to shut it up. But by then I knew we were slow enough anyway. I turned steeply onto a 75 foot final and put her down with a real thud. Strangely enough, I had always thought you could only ground loop in a tail dragger but, as usual, I was proved wrong again! Halfway through our third loop, Ron at last recovered his sense of humour. Talk about laugh. I’ve never seen the likes of it. He couldn’t stop. We finally rolled to a halt and I released the calves, who bolted out of the aircraft like there was no tomorrow.

I then began picking clumps of dry grass. Between gut wrenching fits of laughter, Ron asked what I was doing. I explained that we had to stuff the port tyre with grass so we could fly back to the homestead. It was then that Ron, really lost the plot and started running away from the aircraft. Can you believe it? I saw him running off into the distance, arms flailing in the air and still shrieking with laughter. I later heard that he had been confined to a psychiatric institution – poor bugger! Anyhow mate, that’s enough about Ron.

The problem is I got this letter from CASA  a couple of days ago withdrawing, as they put it, my privileges to fly; until I have undergone a complete pilot training course again and undertaken another flight proficiency test. Now I admit that I made a mistake in taxiing over the wheel chock and not setting the QNH using strip elevation, but I can’t see what else I did that was a so bloody bad that they have to withdraw me flaming’ license. Can you?

Ralph H. Bell

Mud Creek Station


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