As some of you may have noticed I have been a little absent as of late, this comes from a combination of having two young children, some hospital visits and hiding from an impending date.
You see the month of September has been one of the biggest for me, as I’ve achieved something I never thought possible.
Cut to the chase right? Well as you may be able to tell by the heading I conquered a fear. Not just a tiny fear either, I am a 25 year old who has NEVER been a plane. A 25 year old who never wanted or even thought possible that I would go on a plane.
Not a lot of people are aware that I was diagnosed with Anxiety (General and Social Anxiety Disorder) and Panic attacks from the age of 12 and although over the years I have conquered many fears that bring on this panic and anxiety, getting on a plane was never going to be one of them and I was completely okay with that.Fast forward a few years , a few thousand kilometers driving all over Australia to get to destinations, a new relationship and two children and all of a sudden I was left re evaluating whether it was possible to live a life that didn’t involve getting on flights and ultimately whether I was still happy to live a life which limited me so.
Did I want my children to grow up and learn from my poor example, did I want to be a hypocrite when I told them to face their fears if I wasn’t doing it myself?
Welcome the Fearless Flyers program, a not for profit, volunteer organisation run by women pilots since 1979 and proudly sponsored by Qantas and Air services Australia.
The course is offered in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth and may range in time frame. My course was held over two weekends and a weekday night.
The course covers a huge range of topics and each are introduced by a specialist in that area. There are things such as; Understanding the psychology of fear and relaxation techniques presented by Dr. Alison Smith (Psychologist). Presentations and discussions on what makes an aeroplane fly, aircraft design and the testing and maintenance that is involved. This information is provided by Qantas Engineers one of whom was Peter Ovington who was with us the whole way through the course. We also covered Meteorology; including turbulence discussions (why and how it happens) and weather forecasting for aviation – We we’re lucky enough to have this presented by Andrew Treloar who is now retired from the Bureau of Meteorology.
We also got to spend one of the mornings of the course with Captain Owen Weaver (Hello, guys in uniform .. yes please) who went over captains training, duties and navigation with us and was placed in the hot seat to answer 100 + questions.
The fun doesn’t stop there, we also had presentations from Dr Russel Brown to speak to us about the physiological aspects of flying and finished up with Alan Dukes a Senior Air Traffic Controller. And if that’s not enough we also had a bunch of ladies (Marie Williams, Yvonne Pugh, Lynne White, Jacki King and more) ranging from flight attendants through to private pilots there helping us each day whether that be by answering all of our questions or simply offering their support.
You’re probably thinking, wow okay so I sit around a table and listen to people speak.. how is that going to help?
Yes listening and absorbing the information provided is a huge part of this course, knowledge is power after all; but it’s not the only part of it.
The course was held at the Qantas Headquarters in near the airport, however we also went on to the jet base and on to a Stationary Qantas A380 where we were shown through the Flight Deck and the Cabin (Cockpit) as well as an exterior inspection of the plane. This was a great exposure exercise and is definitely not something you could just walk in off the street and participate in.
And the fun continues, we we’re also taken for a tour of the Flight Operations departments and shown a lot more of the background work that goes in to everyday procedures conducted by Qantas and other flight providers.
The second last day of the course was an absolute eye opener for me, we were taken through an Emergency Procedures presentation, this included finding out all the leg work that cabin crew continuously have to take part in to remain flying and doing what they love. No photos were allowed during this part of the day, but imagine walking in to a room with lots of aeroplanes chopped in to sections that allowed training exercises for evacuation practices, inflatable slides and even an indoor swimming pool.
My favorite and most nerve wracking part of this course (Other then the flight) would have to have been the Flight Simulator we were granted access to. This was amazing to see in person and even better to experience all the sensations of flying, taking off, landing and turbulence all while knowing we were still safe on the ground and completely in control.
This brings us to the last day of the course, the Graduation Flight.
We flew from Sydney Airport down to Melbourne Airport, and we had one helper (volunteer) to two people (course participants) while flying. This was it, now I’m not going to lie.. one of the lovely ladies did feel it necessary to loop their arm through mine and escort me down the ramp and on to the plane. Whether they could tell I was about to do a runner.. we will never know. But I can not thank her enough for doing it, because I boarded that flight and I was privileged enough to see the most beautiful sights from up in the sky.
I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I wasn’t anxious still through out the experience, but I had the amazing Dr. Alison Smith sitting with me reminding me of all the information I had been taught over the past two weeks. Did she have to remind me to breath? absolutely. Did she have to remind me of the different motions and actions of the plane and how normal and safe they were? you bet.
The feeling of touching down in Melbourne was like none other, I’ve been proud of others before, but I was so proud and happy for myself and it’s a feeling I never want to forget.
We ventured off to the Casino for a graduation lunch and ceremony. Lucky for me, it was a buffet lunch and after not being able to stomach anything that morning I sure made up for it here. Complimentary Champagne.. don’t mind if I do.
To soon comes the time when we had to board on to our plane and take off for Sydney again, the nerves returned a little and the Captain came across the speaker telling us we had some strong winds to take off through. Did I change my mind and jump out of the plane before it was to late? Nope, I sat by myself (with no helpers or volunteers) and I enjoyed every second of it. The Turbulence, the take off and the landing.
This course has given me something I didn’t even know I was missing, but there’s one thing I haven’t mentioned yet…
The peer support was like no other, we were in a group of 26 people and each and every person there understood exactly where you were coming from, with no judgement and nothing but encouragement and kind words. I have never felt so at ease with a bunch of people I had never met before and was equally as proud in everyone else as they were in me. A few of us have already connected through social media and although we may not all be spending Christmas together this year; I know with out a doubt I will remain in contact with them. Because we did this together, but we did this for our self and we helped raise each other up when the self doubt started creeping back in.
The course currently costs $950 (as of 18.09.2017) This includes the relaxation tape and other course materials as well as the graduation flight and graduation lunch. When I first saw the price I immediately shut down the idea, but months later I was no closer to getting on a plane, so off I went and filled out an application form. I’m not going to lie, leading up to the date of the course I wavered from “I’ve just wasted nearly $1000”, to trying to get approval from my partner that it was okay that I pull out of the course and he wont hold it against me.
How do I feel about it the money now? It was worth every cent.
Dr. Alison Smith alone offered me more insight and information in regards to anxiety and panic then anyone else has ever been able to. From what panic is, to how to change your thinking and so much more. She is an invaluable asset to this course and I will be able to use her words and advice in more aspects of my life then just this. It’s amazing how someone you meet briefly has the ability to make you see things in a whole other light. I want to say she made me feel stronger then I ever have, but I’m sure she would tell me that she only helped point me in the right direction.. I did the rest all by myself.
This course fills you with knowledge, fills you with the hands on experiences that you just wouldn’t receive otherwise. My partner is joking that I know more about flying then him who is a regular jet setter. And many friends and family are jealous of all that I’ve been able to participate in.
Most of all, everyone that loves me is so incredibly proud of me and that feeling right there is amazing, but its nothing compared to how proud of myself I am.
Do you have a fear of flying? Maybe you know someone who does?
Send them a link to our blog and show them some gentle support to know that there is definitely help out there if they are motivated enough to reach for it!
I can not thank the volunteers of this course enough for the gift they have given me.
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