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Breaking the law. Legally.

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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.

Or else.

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 under construction ( pic from Paul Oates collection)

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.

P2-WKD at Ogeranang

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.


About GOF

"Life is like a sewer. What you get out of it, depends upon what you put into it." (Tom Lehrer)

30 responses »

  1. Alternately, you could bring Elle to Denver (altitude 5280), and then you wouldn’t need a Dispensation. 😀

    • Oooooo…..thank you for your generous suggestion Auntie B in my time of need. You are a real friend.
      Please just give me 30 minutes or so to sort out a few minor obstacles that I forsee might lie in my path. 🙂

      • It occurs to me that you might still need a Dispensation from Mrs. GOF. :mrgreen:

        • Let me just get this whole unsavory high-altitude business over and done with in Denver first,……then I’ll retrospectively apply for a Dispensation when Mrs GOF gets home next week.
          She always loves special little surprises after her trips abroad.

  2. Genius! (Shhhh! Don’t tell the youngsters!)

    • I think the youngsters today have bundles of Dispensations (especially for driving cars) that they probably downloaded from some dodgy site on the net. 🙂

  3. Oooooh, I just thought that as your Marketing Manager I see a great future for GOF’s Ye Olde Dispensation Shoppe!!

    Cos they just don’t make dispensations like they used to. 🙂

    • You read my mind (again) LOM.
      I actually had a couple more examples tacked onto the end of this story, but I deleted them in the interests of not offending any more of my blog friends than is absolutely necessary. 🙂

  4. Is “pig paddock” an official aviation term? 🙂

    • It’s from GOF’s Clear Language Aviation Lexicon……..a work which never quite got to the publication stage because it contained too much bad language. 🙂

  5. This is fabulous! Man, oh, man. I need dispensations for a lot of stuff…basically my personality.

    Did I ever mention as a kid, there was a MASSIVE group of hot air balloonists who’d land in one of our pastures every year? Big fun. They don’t require much to land but “landing in a pig poke” reminded me of that.

    • Thank you MT……I’ve often wondered if, when hot air ballons land in some farmer’s wheat or corn paddock, they have to compensate the grower for the damage they do to the crop.

      Like you, I wouldn’t mind a few more Dispensations…….some for purposes that I might not necessarily choose to write about here. 🙂

  6. Expedience is the mother of many a criminal act: but personally, I don’t know how you landed that plane and are still here to tell the tale. I took flying lessons centuries ago, and I found being in the air was easy. It was getting the thing back on the ground that scared the daylights out of me and my instructor.

    • I guess I was driven to a small extent by youthful ignorance HG, but I still love learning about the physics of flight, which is the real basis for a pilot’s confidence. Landing is always the most challenging part……as I occasionally observe these days as a passenger on jets when even the most experienced pilots sometimes make a real mess of the “arrival”.

  7. What a fantastic life you have led, GOF!

  8. I “passed” a uni exam by dispensation ….. I was pulled over by police for going through a red light on my way to the exam. On looking at my licence he discovered another infringement – I’d not changed my address. Already stressed about the exam I was now looking at 2 big fines and I arrived at the exam room, sobbing, to find the door locked as the exam was 20+ minutes in progress. A supervisor did admit me and I sniffled my way through the paper and at the end wrote an explanation as to why I was going to fail it. In hindsight it was stupid of me to think I’d enjoy a subject called “Mathematics of Finance” and I’m pretty sure I was never going to pass that exam even if I’d not had an unpleasant experience on the way. I was given a pass even though I failed – I was not so lucky in getting out of the fines though! 🙂

    My brother’s farm up in the Barrington Tops has an airfield in a paddock – I think he is supposed to keep it slashed (mowed).

    • You deserved to pass that “Mathematics of Finance” exam Emjay simply because of your determination to get into the exam room after everything that had happened.

      I’m not familiar with the Barrington Tops, but some properties in arid regions need to keep airstrips “slashed” to stop termite mounts growing into aircraft hazards. 🙂

  9. Do you still have a pilot’s licence? Is it safe to fly in Australian skies?

    • I allowed my licence to lapse 3 years after returning to Australia FD….my heart just wasn’t in it any more and flying is something that should be done either well or not at all.

      My current knowledge of Australian aviation is not good, but I would suggest that our relatively good climate and lack of high mountains should make it one of the safest places in the world to fly. I listen to Dick Smith when it comes to air safety matters and he believes recent changes in procedures and aircraft maintenance standards are leading up to a major disaster. I hope it waits until after I fly to Melbourne in July. 🙂

  10. I can barely open my eyes when reading about flying, much less when in an airplane. I’m in awe of your boldness, and legal or not, I would love some inside information that would help me to not hate flying.

    • Try reading about the theory of flight Emmy, or get hold of a DVD explaining it.

      I’ve got a wonderful DVD explaining in layman’s terms all the procedures involved in flying a Boeing 767 from England to Florida….with step by step footage of pre-flight inspections, flight planning and cockpit procedures. Educational and reassuring.
      If you’d like a copy, please drop me an email and I’ll send it to you.

  11. With all the hours logged on your magnificent home brew cockpit I’d be happy for you to take over the jumbo jet when all the flight crew get food poisoning. I’m sure one or two movies would have been less dramatic with you at the controls.

    • Perhaps not a good idea Pete. If I got into serious trouble flying the jumbo jet I’d be looking around the cockpit for the “esc” tab. 🙂

  12. Bwahahaha GOF! I have to apologise for the long breaks between visits to your cave. You have once again succeeded to dial up a smile on my mug with this brilliant account. I have more than once raised the ire of the Tower gods (they like to think so anyway) by flying a little too far beyond their neat lines. Better to ask for forgiveness than permission, LOL!

    Your post just reminded me… I’ve got to organise to get checked out on a 172 soon. There’s a fairly new (2004) jobbie that I’m keen to take up… would love to finally feel what the fuss is about re. high-wing vs low-wing.

    • Thanks Ninja…..fortunately most of my time was spent flying outside controlled airspace or I’d probably have had my licence taken off me because of transgressions.

      Hope you enjoy the high wing. I loved mine. Workhorse rather than show-pony….and enjoy the VIEW downwards.

      Oh, and another ex PNG pilot and I were wondering whether the same ABCD airstrip category system applies in Australia and elsewhere in the world, or was just a PNG innovation.

  13. Not as far as I know GOF. We’ve got the comprehensive ERSA manual published by Airservices Australia (kind of like the bible for pilots in Oz) which details almost all airfields and airstrips in this country. No such ABCD designations. They are either sealed, gravel or grass strips. In WA, we’ve also got the WA Country Airstrip Guide, which spotlights the lesser known airstrips in the bush out here. Almost the same amount of detail provided in the ERSA. Really useful for pre-flight planning.

    A great planning tool for my navs is Google Earth. Helps to get my mind’s eye oriented to what I’m supposed to see along my waypoints. Of course, this is because the jalopies I’m flying currently all feature steam gauges. The new birds all have the fancy glass panels and GPS… I’ve yet to discover the joys of these new instruments in the cockpit.

    • Thanks for all that information Ninja….and also for the google earth suggestion….I’ll have to start doing that for my flight sim just to see how accurately the sim replicates real-life.

      Enjoy the challenge of flying with the steam gauges, and I hope you get time to blog occasionally about your adventures.

  14. Eh ya! Nau tasol mi lukim ples balus mi yet wokim wantain ol lain bilo Bulum ia.


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