INTERVIEW WITH PAUL BENNET – AEROBATIC PILOT AND WARBIRD PILOT
- How did you become involved with aviation industry and flying, and at what age? I have been interested in aeroplanes and flying from a very young age. My first flight was at the age of two in a Piper Cherokee with my mother and father as the pilot. Growing up I lived behind the Old Bar Aerodrome. Every time I heard an aeroplane I would ride my bike up to the Air Strip for a look. I started flying model aeroplanes when I was 6 or 7. I flew model aeroplanes including large scale and jets for many years and I still do. After flying models one Sunday morning, a friend of mine had recently flown a Pitts S2A solo. He asked me if I would like to come for a ride. I did and I loved it. I was at the Royal Newcastle Aeroclub the next morning asking for a fast GFPT.
- 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 enjoyed learning to fly. I already had a good understanding of aeroplanes and how they fly from my modeling experience. I knew that as soon as I had finished my GFPT, I would be starting my aerobatic training with Phil Unicomb of Action Aerobatics at Maitland. I started with an Emergency Manoeuvre Training Course. This was essential to my flying career. I think it should be essential for all new pilots. I then started learning precision aerobatics. I knew that I wanted to compete at aerobatics, so I trained for the National Aerobatic Championships held at Parkes NSW. I competed in my first Nationals in the Graduate Category and won. This was the start of things to come.
- What is your most memorable flight experience that you would like to share? The most enjoyable flying has been my first solo flight. It was an amassing day when I first flew a Pitts Special S2A also. I also enjoyed my first flight in a Pitts S1 also. I love flying all types of aeroplanes. Flying is the greatest invention ever. Winning the Australian Unlimited Aerobatic Championship in 2009 has been a highlight of my flying career.
- What skill have you gained from flying that you may not have gained, if you had not taken up flying? Flying is a very important part of my life. It has taught me a lot about planning ahead and patience. Aerobatics can be very frustrating when you are learning, and practicing precision aerobatics for a competition. It takes a lot of practice.
- What is your most favourite aircraft to fly and why? My favourite aeroplane is my Super Pitts Special S1S. I can make it do things unimaginable. It is light with lots of power. I feel like I am part of the aeroplane. I love flying all aeroplanes, whether it is aerobatics in my Pitts or gentleman’s aerobatics in the Wirraway or T28 or flying one of our Grumman Avengers.
- What got you interested in flying a warbird? I was invited to fly the Grumman Avengers by my friend Steve Searle. I wanted to help him make his dream of having a flying museum of warbirds come true.
- What kind of issues have you found in flying a warbird that are different compared to a civil aircraft? Flying Warbirds is a lot of fun and can be very rewarding. Sometimes they can be very challenging. You have to remember that they are very old, with old technology. Radial engines are great when they are going. When things go wrong, they can go really wrong quickly. I have had several engine failures for various reasons. This is where the experience of aeroplane handling skills comes into play.
- What are your views of the current aviation industry in Australia? The part of the Aviation Industry that I am involved with seems to be going OK. The Australian Aerobatic Club is going well. The Warbird Association is going well. Casa has some great people who are doing their best to help the airshow pilots. In my opinion there are far too many aeroplane accidents that are not necessary. I would like to see the skills of instructors raised. I know there are some fantastic instructors in the industry, however there are many that don’t understand the basics of flight. If they don’t understand stalling for example, how can they teach it?
- Can it expand further perhaps bringing more people into the industry? I think there are a lot of people interested in flying. I think the cost of flying in GA is becoming very expensive. I think the RAA flying is more affordable, however the instructor skills need to be increased.
- Do you find the regulations and rules imposed on flying a factor in deciding if you want to fly? I guess the major cost of flying for me is Avgas and oil. These costs are out of my control. Sponsorship helps a lot with both parts and finance.
- What goals have you got for the future with your aviation interests? My goals for the future are to perform at most Australian Airshows. I want to set the highest standard and be known as the premier airshow performer in both aerobatics and warbirds.