Senior Flying Instructor
T: 0405 775 192
Steve Smith - Instructor Profile
Even as a very experienced flying instructor with a very patient and calm demenour, I have my share of frightening flying experiences.
When I opened the drawer in which I kept my 6 log books I wondered where all the years had gone.
No-one in my family ever thought of flying, not even as a passenger. My father was a plasterer! My first career was as a school teacher and my first appointment was to the small country town of Tingha, in northern New South Wales. By 1962, I knew that teaching wasn’t for me and one night I just decided to be an airline pilot.
My first flight was in a Tiger Moth at the old Inverell Airstrip and I was hooked. All I had to do was save enough money from my meagre teacher salary to do a few hours each month and I was on my way. Well-known local CFI TrevorWeekes became my instructor. Older pilots may remember him – he had an unfortunate accident in 1982 at Taree.
Getting the commercial pilot’s licence is only the first step in achieving an aviation career. I decided Instructing was an easier path and my first job was at the Orange Flying School which was then owned by Jim Hazelton. I had to do some charter, but landing on roads and waiting around for passengers who expected to get home despite the weather was to be avoided!
Instructing offers a much more stable lifestyle and is more the academic side of the industry. Being an ex-teacher, it seemed to be a natural path to follow. Anyone can fly and I have only had two students that I would not allow to go solo. They still enjoyed the experience and I believe there is a level of aviation that will suit everyone, but not everyone has the ability to become an A380 Captain. With this in mind, I think the best jobs in aviation are in Qantas-Link, but everyone aspires to fly jets.
Perseverance is one of the important qualities for potential pilots. Sometimes students just can’t get it right. They need to stick with it and put their mistakes behind them and get on with the job of flying the aircraft. I have seen potential airline candidates trapped in General Aviation for years. Some give up and seek other careers (two especially come to mind; one became a train driver and the other a Spotlight Store Manager). Those that stay in the industry generally make it to the airlines. However, it can be a long, hard road.
As an instructor, I have had plenty of frights, mostly in the Bankstown Training Area. Engines are reliable; failures are uncommon. In 19,000 hours I have only had a couple of rough running engines. Frights stand your hair on end, you react and they leave you with the thought – What did I do wrong? For example, while doing short take off and landings at Hoxton Park, I pulled the throttle to simulate an engine failure at 50’. We were doing a maximum angle of climb with a very high nose attitude. The Tobago was doing 60kts and the best glide speed is 78kts. Without the propeller wash over the elevator the aircraft stopped in the air and plummeted towards the earth. Luckily a rapid restoration of power stopped the wheels being driven through the wings! Thank God the engine responded, as it should.
Pulling out the mixture is another way of producing a self-induced sweat. Fortunately, the last time I did it there was enough runway to land on. The knob, cable and all had come out of the instrument panel. It’s very embarrassing to be towed back to the hangar on a tow rope!
The most challenging plane I flew was the F28 Fellowship. After 16 years on the F27 I found it very hard to adjust to going twice as high and twice as fast. I decided to spend extra time as a First Officer in order to catch up with it. The most challenging plane to land was the Cessna 180. At Orange I would marvel at the crop-duster pilots’ ability to do a beautiful wheeler each time. After practising for many hours I had mixed success.
One of my most memorable flights (there have been many) included flying from Sydney to Alice Springs in the Fokker Friendship. We departed every Saturday afternoon. Flight time could be 5-6 hours which meant flying over the centre of Australia with a setting sun – magic, especially in the winter. Fuel was always critical and to save track miles we flew direct using map reading. We had a roll of joined WAC charts which were rolled hand to hand as the flight progressed. Abeam Broken Hill we did some dodgy fuel calculation. Generally, we scraped through. If not, it was Broken Hill, Leigh Creek and Oodnadatta for fuel. Getting a bush re-fueler out of a pub on a Saturday afternoon was always challenging! The passengers loved coming up to the cockpit and we appreciated the company (things were different then). Returning to Sydney the next day was a bit of a let-down. The inevitable tail wind solved our fuel problem and flying towards the more populated areas of NSW made navigation easier. One time we were 30 miles off course but that was not a problem with Cobar and Parkes NDB’s coming up.
I have a thing about Turboprops. F27s are hard to find these days. A few circuits in a Dash 8 would be my dream, but I would have to do the landing. The aircraft on my achievable bucket list is the DH82 Tiger Moth. The last one I flew was about 1963. I had a smile on my face for a week. During my next trip to Wanaka in NZ I will shout myself an hour, but it must be in the summer).
1962 Commonwealth Scholarship Winners Gary Honour, Steve Smith and CFI Trevor Weekes
Steve Smith as a young pilot