Interview with Ian Eccles

How did you become involved with aviation industry and flying, and at what age?

Ever since I can remember I have been very interested in aircraft, aviation and flying.   As a child I read extensively, made many plastic models and watched any movie or tv series associated with aviation. I believe a visit to my local RAAF base in early primary school could have sparked it all off.

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How did you find learning to fly – going through the stages of gaining your licenses and approvals – was it easy or challenging for you?

I was always aiming at flying with the RAAF. Having a Dad who was an ex Royal Marine Commando probably helped steer me to the military side of flying. After a couple of trial instructional flights at the local Aero Club while at school, I was hooked and joined the RAAF at 18 years. Graduating just after my 20th birthday. The training was challenging, rewarding and frustrating as all worthwhile endeavors are, however in the end I was successful.

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What do you find the most enjoyable aspect about flying as a pilot?

I believe everyone has an innate talent or ability that predisposes them to some activity.   Be it a sport, literature, art, music etc. Some are lucky enough to identify that ability and utilise it, mine is flying. I have an innate sense of how to place an aircraft where I want to.   For example, very early on in my flying training I was practicing circuits with an instructor.   He was about to demonstrate the correct landing technique by taking over on short finals but let me go as I appeared to be doing what was required. I flew the flare and landing quite well without any prior instruction or exposure. All the instructor said was, “OK you just keep doing that”. I wasn’t consciously thinking of how to land an aircraft, I just did it!   Using this ability gives me great pleasure and satisfaction, whether it is performing low level aerobatics in my Yak 52 or operating an Airbus A330 into challenging airports around the world.

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What is your most memorable flight experience that you would like to share?

I also believe giving without expecting any return amplifies these good feelings.   When flying Caribou aircraft for the Air Force I was involved in supporting Camp Quality, where sick teenagers are given experiences to improve their quality of life and hopefully their health also. The support involved two aircraft shuttling the campers from one site to another. To make it more interesting the crews decided to do this in close formation. My overriding memory of this flight is looking at the open ramp of the aircraft in front and seeing it full of happy faces waving madly, also seeing the cockpit of the other aircraft crammed with happy faces when they were behind us.  his has stayed with me for many years and has inspired me to get involved in the SIDS for Kids charity drive this year.

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What skill have you gained from flying that you may not of gained, if you had not taken up flying?

Flying in a multi crew aircraft certainly teaches you that everyone, no matter their experience or background can contribute. I have lost count of the number of times the most junior crew member has noticed something the more senior members have missed.   When I started flying single engine aircraft again, the overriding mantra “always have a backup” has been reinforced in all my aircraft operations and life.

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What is your most favourite aircraft or helicopters to fly and why?

The aircraft I am currently airborne in is my favourite. All aircraft have their good and bad points but ultimately I believe being off the ground in a large hunk of metal is rewarding enough. I have flown everything from a hang glider to a 250 tonne airliner and they are all great. Also, having flown both the Boeing 767 and currently the Airbus 330, I don’t subscribe to the “If it ain’t Boeing I ain’t going” philosophy. At present though, I have to lean towards my Yak 52, radial engine, fully aerobatic beast that it is!

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What got you interested in flying a warbird?

A few years ago a friend of mine who owns a tiger moth asked if I could take some passengers up for him.   This was the start of my light aircraft awakening. After operating this beauty from a bush strip for a while, the real flying bug hit big time and I started looking for a way to become more involved in General Aviation. After much searching I discovered a Citaria available for hire near me and started brushing up your aerobatics.   This, coupled with some chance meetings with colleagues who owned Warbirds set me on the path to Yak 52 ownership. I love the idea of operating something a bit different.    Radial engine, WW2 style canopy, military cockpit all gives a very different experience compared to an equivalent Cessna or Piper.

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How did you get started with your own warbird business operation?

If I was going to own this type of aircraft, I would like to share it with like-minded people.   The best way to do this is through Adventure Flights.This required me to step up a business structure to support the operation, hence Capital Warbirds.

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What kind of issues have you found in flying a warbird that are different compared to a civil aircraft?

Flying a Warbird is essentially the same as flying any other light aircraft. The paperwork required is slightly different but the Australian Warbirds Association is excellent at helping with all the administration that surrounds this. Sometimes there are different maintenance requirements, but most aircraft are a little different. The main differences come from the experience of flying something distinct and from the reaction of people at airports when you visit.

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What is your views of the current aviation industry in Australia? Can it expand further perhaps bringing more people into the industry?

The current state of Australia’s aviation industry is split in to two camps, the major airlines are doing well having recovered from the GFC and high fuel prices. Light aircraft operations however have been hit from many directions for more than 15 years.   Predominantly the sale of the airfields around the country has pushed many GA operators away from population centres, reducing the public’s awareness, or driven them out of business altogether. This is now causing recruiting problems for the big end of town, as the available pool of qualified and experienced pilots is not there as it has been in the past.   There is also a belief in some quarters that if you own an aircraft you are rich, and therefore do not require any help from government. This is of course on the whole, not true.  Owning a light aircraft is no different to owning a classic car or holiday home. It is just another way for passionate enthusiasts to be involved in aviation. These enthusiasts are all too willing to help the community also, sight Angel Flight as an organised example but there are many more. With some consideration from Government the GA sector could expand greatly, employing many more people and providing community services unique to this very large country of ours.

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How could AOPA and the aviation industry help attract more people to become interested in flying?

There is a large undercurrent of aviation interest in the general population. I was recently involved in the Canberra Airport Open Day and was blown away by the number of people wanting to look, talk, and be around aviation. People like aeroplanes! This is evident whenever there is a gathering of interesting aircraft, the number of airshows being held these days is a testimony to this. More overt advertising to the general population not just the aviation community and events would go a long way to increasing the number of people involved in GA and the profile of this sector.

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Do you find the regulations and rules imposed on flying a factor in deciding if you want to fly?

Primarily the regulations and rules involved in flying are there because someone in the past has had an accident and we have learnt from it. These regulations may seem overly cautious sometimes but they are there for our safety and must be followed.

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What goals have you got for the future with your aviation interests?

I plan to establish Capital Warbirds as a regular facet on the Canberra scene. Adventure Flights are the start; I plan to begin display flying the Yak 52 in the near future. We shall see what happens from there.

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DUAN thanks Ian for the interview and wishes him well with his future flying plans. Photos by DUAN, Ian Eccles and Tom Fisher.

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