For most of this life I have paddled my little canoe inconspicuously around the lagoon of mediocrity, rarely being tempted to add any sort of outrigger to it and explore the more unpredictable ocean which lies beyond the protective reef surrounding my atoll.
It always seemed safer this way. By not attracting attention to myself I avoided school bullying and young men’s feuds, and accidentally along the way also discovered the meaning of tranquillity.
It was a surprise, as much to myself as anybody else, when early in 1976 I decided to get a pilots licence. Surprising in more ways than one, because I was then, and remain today, terrified at the prospect of climbing higher than the fifth rung on a stepladder.
My decision was made within a week with as much emotion as a carpenter might use when deciding to buy an old truck in which to cart around his tools of trade.
I needed to learn to fly, then find a secondhand aeroplane in order to do my job to the best of my ability. Simple as that. No more walking unproductively for 10 hours up and down and around Papua New Guinea to reach a destination that could be accessed in just 10 minutes by plane.
Twelve weeks later with a grand total of 64 hours flight training, I held in my sweaty palm for the first time “PNG Private Pilot Licence Aeroplanes Unrestricted” Number 283.
The next thing I grabbed hold of after pawning-off almost everything that I owned, was something that ultimately proved to be one of the loves of my life. Dear old P2-WKD was a battered maroon and white 1959 Cessna 182A equipped with an antiquated World War 2 Lear ADF radio and clunky mechanical flap lever.
Flight training theory courses teach private pilots a lot of stuff about aeroplanes, weather, navigation, and how not to kill yourself.
What they did not teach me much about was the lesser-known rules and regulations which apply to aviation.
It therefore came as a complete surprise when, after a couple of months of flying, I was hauled before a Flight Service Officer
( guys who sat somewhere in the control tower buildings at PNG’s main airports and maintained mandatory radio contact with all pilots)
and reminded that I was NOT permitted to fly seven days each week for an indefinite period of time.
I was directed by this God of aviation to forthwith have at least one day mother-earth-bound during each seven.
Soon after this I had the second in what was to become a very long series of run-ins with Regulations and Authority.
Airstrips in New Guinea were rated according to the surface of the landing area.
Category “Alpha” being the best, then “Bravo“, “Charlie” and finally “Delta” which applied to firm but short grass or dirt ‘strips.
By knowing this information in advance, pilots could safely determine which landing fields were suitable for their type of aircraft.
Occasionally after very heavy rain a few bush ‘strips were downgraded to a mysterious new “Category Echo” which basically meant “land at your own risk on this pig paddock”.
Ogeranang, at 5000 feet elevation and just 8 minutes away from my home base at Pindiu was frequently downgraded to this quagmire status Echo. Most days of the week I flew into Ogeranang and was familiar with it’s shortcomings. Fortunately there were always people on hand willing to lift the plane out of bog holes back onto firmer ground whenever my optimism overwhelmed better judgment.
I really didn’t need any bureaucratic intervention.
It arrived anyway via Flight Service radio as I was in the circuit area and about to land at Ogeranang early one morning;
“GOF, is your aircraft certified for landing at Category Echo fields?”
Que? Whaat? *thinks briefly* What the freaking hell is a Cat. E Certification ……….before I pushed the transmit button and replied with absolute conviction;
Then landed as planned.
The letter arrived by mail shortly afterwards advising me of my repeated infringements of Air Safety Regulations along with instructions on how to make P2-WKD Category E compliant by reducing it’s gross weight and fitting special larger balloon tyres suitable for mud landings.
OR………..OR….. and this was the magnificent moment when I first discovered there was a legal way to break the law.
There was a special “Request for Dispensation” Form attached to the warning letter which, upon completion and approval, would enable me to continue flouting the law ad infinitum.
I eventually discovered that they were available for all sorts of aviation misdemeanors…..missing or faulty cockpit gauges and radios. I could even occasionally fly longer hours with a Dispensation, and I dreamed of one day applying for one to take Elle MacPherson up to 5280 feet and…….
Dammit, I’m sure I once had a perfectly good reason for wanting to do that, but now my ageing memory just can’t recall what it might have been.
I still dream of Dispensations today.
I’d like one permitting me to drive right through that bastard of a red traffic light in the small town of Gordonvale at 4 am when there’s obviously not another vehicle for 10 miles in any direction.
Come to think of it, I could find uses for a whole fistfull of
“Request for Dispensation” Forms.