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THE ROMANCE OF AVIATION ISN’T LOST ON JONATHAN PHILLIPS, IT’S THE LOVE OF HIS YOUNG LIFE. JONATHAN UNDERSTANDS THE THRILL SUCH FLYING LEGENDS AS HOWARD HUGHES, CHARLES KINGSFORD SMITH AND, CLOSER TO HOME, SIR WILMOT HUDSON FYSH KNEW AS THEY PUT THEIR FLYING MACHINES TO THE TEST BACK IN THE 1920s.

His personal flight into aviation history is a much more high-tech procedure that’s far less fraught with danger, but no less inspirational. At 20 years of age and already able to boast two years’ flying for affiliated subsidiary airlines of Qantas, Jonathan has achieved a remarkable feat as a pilot. He flew solo for the first time on his 16th birthday – the minimum age – and quickly went on to rack up the 150 flying hours needed to qualify for a commercial pilots’ licence.

If grade 12 exams were tough as a student at Scotch Oakburn College in Launceston, he says they were nothing in comparison with his pilot examinations for the Qantas Cadet Pilot Training programme. “The pressure to get through, the sheer volume of work, is enormous,” he says. It’s probably no wonder given that there can be up to 800 applicants for the programme which accepts only 15 candidates a year. Where The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) requires a 70 per cent pass rate, Qantas increases that to 80 per cent to guarantee the best candidates, who then have to achieve 100 per cent to gain a licence.

Jonathan’s successful entry into flying for the airline respected internationally as “the world’s safest” is no mean feat, but Launceston can be even more proud in that he is flying for the airline founded by one its own sons.

Sir Hudson Fysh grew up in Launceston – born in a residence on High St and later living in the gracious environs of Ketteringham – a heritage-listed Victorian estate at St Leonards. By 1920 he had registered the airline Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services, and by 1926 he had overseen the building of the first aircraft by Qantas – a DH50A. A year later Fysh had played a leading role in setting up the Royal Flying Doctor Service for Reverend John Flynn – the “largest parish of 3.2m sq. kilometres”.

I read Sir Hudson Fysh’s story before an inter- view I had with Qantas – naturally to sound good and get a job – but I was so inspired by his story.

Records show that by 1929 it was not a question of whether Australia could be part of an overseas service, but when and which carrier it would be. Qantas was to win the race by going into partnership with Australia’s other fledging airlines ANA and Western Australian Airways, gaining the international airmail route in 1931.

And therein lies another fascinating link to Launceston, with ANA being owned by another of its sons, Sir Ivan Holyman until its sale to Reginald Ansett in 1945. Sir Hudson Fysh’s tale is a fascinating time line of international aviation history, but it was to come to a sad end in June 1966 when he was sacked from Qantas by yet another Launceston identity, then Senator and Air Minister Sir Denham Henty. Launceston remembered its foremost aviation son by presenting Sir Hudson Fysh with the Freedom of Launceston three years later. Ironically, it was awarded partly on the recommendation of Denham Henty.

The sacking had come about due to a board decision that to continue to grow Qantas needed revitalised blood. Sir Hudson Fysh left Qantas at the age of 71. He had been knighted in 1953 and died at the age of 79.

It has been said that “no other pioneer Australian airline executive has made so many dreams come true”, as he did. It’s a legacy that fuelled Jonathan’s dream to fly.

“I still don’t think I have a job really,” Jonathan says. “I fly an aeroplane for a few hours then go home – it’s a joy that’s become a job.”

His interest in aeroplanes was sparked in grade six when he went to a sky race at Valleyfield. “I loved it all, but it wasn’t until I went out to the Royal Flying Doctor Service hangar at Western Junction and was allowed to sit in the pilot’s seat to ‘do some checks’ that I looked at it as a possible career.”

Grade seven became a year more about flying than learning English or science, although this budding aviator could see the need to concentrate in maths classes. Jonathan was 12 years old, but his vocation was being carved out through enthusiastic tutelage by flying instructors at Bass Flight Services.

These days Jonathan is stationed at Darwin, where he hates the humidity, but loves the chance to fly for Pearl Aviation, a corporate airline that services the oil companies in the Northern Territory and Western Australia. It’s a two-year contract that sees him as a first officer, whereas if he had flown for the head company Qantas he would be registered as a second officer.

He has high hopes of making the swap fairly soon. To be a staff member of Qantas is a thrill, but to fly as a true-blue Qantas pilot would be “the biggest buzz”.

“It would be a proud moment for me,” Jonathan admits.

“I read Sir Hudson Fysh’s story before an interview I had with Qantas – naturally to sound good and get a job – but I was so inspired by his story.”

One hundred years ago Sir Wilmot Hudson Fysh and others like him had the dream to fly the world – Jonathan Phillips shares that dream today.

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Jonathan Phillips