Without Precedent. Flight Training...then and now.




Without Precedent.

Flight Training....then and now.


Following in the footsteps of one's father is not a new concept. In fact, for centuries sons were born into the trade of their elders. Blacksmith begat blacksmith and carpenter begat carpenter. Similarly, in the new age, many pilots have heralded from an aviation parentage. Even so, in the space of mere decades, the role of the pilot and the machines that take into the sky have changed.


A Logical Progression.

It is not surprising that many pilots are the offspring of pilots. From the earliest of their days, the children of aviators are exposed to a very different workplace environment. Airport terminals or air bases, uniforms and odd hours are the norm, rather than a sideshow to an exciting holiday to some far flung destination. And of course, there are the aeroplanes.

Sleek, fast and in eye-catching paint schemes they are the ultimate toy for the toddler. The sounds, sights and smells of an aircraft lifting off and soaring into the sky is something that an App can't quite capture. Youngsters still stand open-mouthed by the expansive terminal windows or cast their eyes to the sky at air shows. However, it is often the fact that they are the children of pilots that places them in this different dimension.

Even as they grow, the aviation industry is a mystery to their peers. It is not university-based and there are no trade courses listed in the average careers guide. Even those in the school system that are trusted to counsel students on their future vocation are often at a loss when aviation is concerned. Many can regurgitate the requirements listed for Defence Force pilot entry, but civil aviation remains a complete mystery.

A pilot parent also cracks the door on the downside of the industry for many. The long absences, the household tension of an impending check flight, early starts and jet lag. For some children, aviation does not hold the allure, no matter how big and shiny the jets may be. Furthermore, the days of riding up the front in the flight deck have been stolen by a politically unstable world. Still, many choose to pursue a path to the cockpit.

A Case in Point.

Phillip Zupp had a diverse aviation career to say the least. Originally training as a RAAF navigator in World War Two until decreasing demand for air crew saw him change direction to see action as an Army Commando in New Guinea. With his heart still set on flying, post war he re-enlisted as an aircraft mechanic and learned to fly privately before the Korean War increased demand and saw him remustered in the RAAF as a pilot.

He went on to fly 201 combat sorties in Korea, become a flight instructor, fly Super Constellations for QANTAS and DC-3s for Airlines of NSW. He towed targets in Mustangs, seeded clouds in Cessnas and trained two generations of QANTAS cadet pilots. He flew charter and commuter airline operations before a final decade with the NSW Air Ambulance. It was an expansive career of 23,000 hours and around 100 aircraft types.

Raised in such a household, one son became a reluctant airline passenger and the other was smitten by the aviation bug at an early age. It would seem the both nurture and nature had a role to play in the respective career choices. However, even for the son that trod the path of flight, the journey was very different to that walked by his father. The technology, the requirements, the training and the options on hand had changed a good deal since Phillip first took to the skies for the first time in the back of an Avro Anson. The comparisons are striking.

First Footsteps.

Phillip joined the Air Training Corps as a youngster. While the youth organisation of the RAAF still exists today, its role in World War Two was somewhat different. It was effectively a first stage of recruitment and the entry paperwork stated the understanding that the cadet would seek service in the RAAF on becoming of age. It was duly countersigned by a parent. Today's cadets are obviously educated and encouraged to join the Air Force, but there is no obligation as it existed in wartime.

Furthermore, the subjects studied and the examinations that were passed in the Air Training Corps were directly aligned with RAAF requirements. This was critical for Phillip. The Great Depression and drought led to the loss of the family farm and he was subsequently forced to leave school at an early age to work. He was effectively without a high school education, but his Air Training Corps results allowed him to both apply and be accepted as air crew, despite very little formal education.

Even so, he was recruited as a navigator and unable to qualify for his greatly desired vocation as a pilot. Ultimately, he would have to wait the best part of a decade before that door would open and even then it would be a self-funded route in the first instance. He learned to fly privately at Wagga Wagga where he was training as an aircraft mechanic. The standard training aircraft of the late 1940s was the venerable Tiger Moth, although his flying school also possessed CAC Wackett trainers.

Then as now, a great portion of his wage went into paying for every hour of flight training. Fortunately, post war he had been a cane-cutter in northern Queensland and it was a job that paid well. It was hard, hot and dirty work, but it had allowed him to save a sum that aided his dream of learning to fly. He soloed in around eight hours, which was standard for the day. There was no radio, radio exam or procedures to learn and the airport was an all-over field with into-wind landings and take-offs the norm. The tailwheel Tiger was trickier than modern trainers, but the airspace and airports were from a simpler time.

By comparison, his son also soloed in eight hours, but on a nose wheel Cessna, on an asphalt runway and with a control tower nearby. Although there were still no headsets and 'boom mikes', just an overhead speaker and a hand-held microphone. A cabin heater and closed cockpit had replaced the leather helmet, goggles and head in the airflow of the Tiger Moth.

On completion of his training as a mechanic, Phillip was based at Rathmines and working on Catalinas when the Korean War broke out in 1950. Still without any formal education, he was initially rejected for pilot training. However, through the encouragement and the recommendation of a senior officer, he was finally accepted and issued with orders to make his way to Point Cook and ultimately a career as a pilot.


A Different World.

Phillip trained his son on a breed of comfortable, forgiving all metal trainers. After solid consolidation he would step up to somewhat similar, but slightly more complex aircraft and undergo the next phase of training. Solo, private pilot, multi-engine, instrument rating, commercial pilot and so on. Each step was measured and progressed at a pace limited by both finances and the rigid syllabus of training. The same could not be said of Phiilp's progression.

From his initial training on the Tiger Moth, the next step was onto the Wirraway. It was a huge step from the open cockpit taildragger to the far more complex radial-engined advanced trainer. From there it was onto the Airspeed Oxford for his multi-engine training in an aircraft with fixed wooden propellers with no ability to be feathered. By this time, he had accrued around 200 hours which included 15 hours of instrument flight and even less night experience.

However, it was the subsequent conversion training that really stands out. The next endorsement was on the powerful Mustang fighters. In the absence of a dual seat trainer, the handling notes were studied thoroughly and drills in the aircraft were learned to a standard where they could be executed blindfolded. Exposure to the Mustang’s long nose and higher approach speeds was gained by flying the Wirraway from the back seat and landing flapless. After 15 hours of this training, it was time for the first flight and solo in one of the greatest fighter aircraft the world had ever seen.

In the modern world, insurance is often a prime element in the pilot requirements to fly certain aircraft. Young commercial pilots can be met with the Catch-22 of 200 hours on Barons needed to get a job actually flying a Baron. Furthermore, advanced General Aviation types are now often supported by flight simulators and type specific ground schools. The Mustang’s Handling Notes were A5 by dimension and contained 45 pages and after the supervising pilot monitored the engine start, you were on your own.

Perhaps the greatest leaps occurred converting to jets. At the time there were no two-seat Vampires, so a similar combination of Pilots Notes, briefings and supervised engine start preceded Phillip’s first flight in a nosewheel aircraft, a pressurised cockpit and with a jet powerplant – a flight flown ‘solo’. And if it all went wrong, there was no ejection seat fitted to the early model Vampire either. 40 years later and with 400 hours in his log book, his son would be flying single-engined scenic flights in remote regions of Western Australia. By comparison, that level experience saw Phil flying his first combat mission over Korea in a Gloster Meteor F.8. Previously, 10 hours of conversion training had included the luxury of 2 hours in a dual seat Meteor with an instructor. That being said, the Meteor jet was the first twin-engined aircraft he was endorsed on after the Airspeed Oxford with its wooden propellers.

In later years Phil would stress the different nature of those first 400 hours. He had been drilled on formation flying, gunnery and aerobatics which were all visual flight in nature. As he instructed a new generation of pilots, years later, a similarly experienced young civil pilot would probably have far more exposure to night and instrument flying. By the time he returned home from Korea, Phil still only had a grand total of 20 hours of night flying and a little more instrument time. Given the option, he would rather skim at low level along the Han River back to his base at Kimpo than attempt an instrument approach.

A Brave New World.

If one thing remained constant through the span of Phil’s career in was the inconsistency of aviation. Something his son also experienced in a career that began in the 1980s. Phil had a broad ranging career that included some years of relative security flying Super Constellations for QANTAS, however, the long trips took a toll on his family life. His subsequent career spanned target towing, Airlines of NSW, cloud-seeding, charter flying, flight instruction and aerial ambulance operations just to cite a cross-section.

Yet for all of the vast experience and range of aircraft types he had flown, Phil was still at the mercy of aviation’s fickleness. He was one of a number of Airlines of NSW pilots retrenched in the early 1960s and he had a number of companies fold while in their employment. The most stable employment he ever found was with East West Airlines, flying the NSW Air Ambulance contract. In his words it was, “The best job he ever had without getting shot at.” Even so, only 3 years after his retirement the airline was in the midst of the 1989 Pilot’s Dispute.

Without Precedent.

Phil’s career path in aviation was not unique for its day – it was the standard. The modern flight training realm is a far cry from those times which were greatly influenced by the state of the world and the demand for pilots – just as had been the case during World War Two. As in all aviation endeavours, a great deal was learned from those times and the environment that exists today is better for the experiences of the past.

What possibly makes Phil’s story interesting within his book is the underlying narrative that would not be achievable today. He pursued a successful career in aviation despite the educational handicap the economic challenges his childhood had presented him with. And while his aviation life was remarkable, somehow he also found himself in the jungles of New Guinea as a Commando and as one of the first soldiers to witness the devastation of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima first hand. He went on to become the first Australian awarded the Purple Heart by the Americans in an another intriguing tale. An ordinary man that lived an extraordinary life.

He dreamed of flight from the earliest age, but never imagined that the dream would ever come true. Unlike his son that followed, for Phillip there wasn’t any real concept of a career in aviation that his family could pass on. For him, his life in aviation and so many other aspects of his life were without precedent. 


‘Without Precedent’.

Commando, Fighter Pilot and the True Story of Australia’s first Purple Heart.


Owen Zupp

Available as Hardcover (ISBN 978-0-9946038-0-7), Paperback (ISBN 978-0-9874954-8-8) and eBook.

There and Back Publishing. 2016.

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