On the 13th October 2016, the Royal Aeronautical Society Heathrow Branch successfully concluded the second lecture of the 2016/17 season at the British Airways Waterside Theatre. The lecture, presented by Line Training Captain Paul Catanach, TAG Aviation, was entitled ‘Recollections of a Bush Pilot’.
A latecomer to aviation, Paul Catanach gained his Private Pilot’s Licence (PPL) aged thirty with Clacton Aero Club on a Piper Cub. Immediately afterwards, he combined emigration to Australia with a career change and gained a Commercial Pilot’s Licence (CPL) at Coolangatta, Queensland where he also achieved his first job as an instructor. He later moved to Darwin in the Northern Territory to become a bush pilot. After several years, Paul returned to the UK where he is now a Training Captain operating privately owned business jets.
His training showed how varied flying can get out there. He was flying tight figure of eight circuits at two hundred feet to avoid restricted areas during the initial phase of his training. This helped him to practice the low level flying that could get the pilots out of some very sticky situations. He also described the general challenges faced by pilots while living in the bush. From avoiding poisonous fauna (and not running over them unless you want an angry snake in your gear bay at the other end!) to locating medicinal flora, Paul showed us how to collect water and survive in such an inhospitable part of the world.
The Australian climate is a testing environment for any pilot and Paul showed how the wet and dry seasons changed throughout the year. He would watch bush fires move twenty to thirty kilometres across the desert each week in the scorching heat of the dry season. During the wet season, he showed us the importance of tying down the aircraft at the end of the day, and described the Australian ‘willie willies’.
His stories about the Aboriginal beliefs were fascinating, sometimes causing issues with flight safety, such as a fire ritual to cleanse the aircraft (full of fuel) from spirits during a repatriation…to his sheer panic! He also described how these differences in culture caused their own challenges during the flight, for example how clouds are thought to be places of spirits, and therefore not to fly through or near them with nervous passengers!
While travelling great distances, most of the flights were made using very little or no navigation aids. Pilots were therefore relying solely on flying an accurate heading in the middle of the night over the heart of the desert. It was evident in this lecture that there were also high commercial pressures, encouraging the pilots to replace their only water supply with more cargo to meet supply demands. As a result, this made the bush an even more treacherous place to work.
Paul’s light hearted and entertaining talk was really brought to life with a display of charts, items from the bush and magazines which we were invited to look through at the end of the talk. He summarised by describing how the airfields out there have developed over time since the start of his bush career. Since coming back to the UK he has realised how small the world actually is, often flying with old friends and colleagues from the bush but this time in a very different environment and in very different aircraft.
Looking forward to the November 2016 lecture, the RAeS Heathrow Branch is welcoming Tony Gaunt, Business Development Executive, Martin-Baker. He will present a fascinating journey of the origin and developments of a company that for over 67 years has been the undisputed world leader in the design and manufacture of ejection seats. You can now register our lectures online at tiny.cc/RAeSLHR.
Eleanor McBrien, 14 October 2016