On Amanda Deed – for HeliOps Magazine

Weathered by the cracks in Australia’s ozone, Paul’s face spreads into a broad smile, and his eyes twinkle merrily. Hand in hand with a natural propensity for all types of aviation, that grin is another defining feature he shares with his daughter, Amanda Deed.

“I got my licence around the time Amanda was born, so she has always flown – her whole life,” He chuckles. “I’ll always remember one particular time, vividly. We flew with her – she was only a tiny baby, well, maybe one or two years old – up to this birthday party in Shepparton.” 

They were in a Piper Lance that day, and, coincidently, Paul had recently read a report on an aircraft of the same type that had suffered an engine failure roughly three months earlier. 

“I loved reading all the reports – you know, to find out what happened and keep learning – and this one said that, oh, they were flying along, everything was going fine, but that all of a sudden they heard a bang, and thirty seconds later the engine failed.”

They attended the festivities and had a great time. Paul was still Day VFR at this point, so they got back to the plane relatively early – little Amanda loaded up with party goodies from doting friends – and off they went. It was a beautiful day, blue sky in every direction; they levelled off at 6000ft. Paul remembers looking out the window, thinking, ‘How good is this?’

“Next thing, there’s this BANG! – and I thought – ‘Oh shit! I’ve got thirty seconds!'” He cackles.

“So I’m looking around looking for flat paddocks, and I’m checking everything – the pressures are ok, the fuel’s ok – everything’s ok. Anyway, thirty seconds comes and goes – then a minute, two minutes, you know – and the whole time I’m thinking, ‘What the hell was that noise?!'”

After much deliberation, they landed safely; baby Amanda had even fallen asleep in the back. Paul went round to the rear doors to get her out while they inspected the airframe. 

“So I picked her up – and as I’m picking her up, I look down. And there on the floor of the aircraft is a withered-up party balloon,” Paul delivers, with obvious mirth. “I just looked at it and cracked up laughing. And in my head, I’m thinking, ‘You idiot.'”

Growing up, Amanda experienced some of the best flying Australia has to offer. There were countless family adventures to the Outback, stopping at dots on the map like Forrest and Arkaroola – both well-loved in the general aviation community for their remote location and extreme, outlandish beauty. She remembers jumping in the back of the Cherokee Six to fly across to Flinders Island for family holidays and up to Coffs Harbour to visit her grandpa. 

“We’ve been doing that flight for years – as early as I can remember. There are lots of mountains on the way, all green and beautiful – a big contrast to flying to Flinders Island, with all the water, picking out the islands as you go across. Coffs Harbour had lights on their big runway – which runs right along the coast – I always thought it was absolutely beautiful there. And my grandpa was always at the gate waiting for us.”

It was a bit of time coming, but once Amanda earned her Private Pilots Licence at age 24, she got to do that flight herself. “And there he was again – grandpa, at the gate waiting for me.”

Nevertheless, Outback Australia is her favourite place to fly. “You meet so many people. And to hear the stories – about where they have come from, and the sort of flying they’ve done – is pretty incredible.”

Piloting countless ferry flights with her dad and learning from all the other characters she’s met along the way meant that, by April this year, Amanda was ready to take on the newly-minted Australian CPL’s rite of passage – a season in the Outback.

Set in tiny outposts in the nether regions of Australia, like William Creek, Maree, and Wilpena Pound, a first-time charter pilot’s day begins at dawn and ends only when all the work is done. Accommodation is pretty basic, and the water parches your hair, cracks tiles and leaves a mineral buildup on the taps in the bathrooms. Here no one is just a pilot – everything from reservations to plumbing is in the job description. Since the moment she arrived, Amanda’s days have teemed with new experiences, in all aspects of the operation.

“Out here, everyone lives and works together, so [whether rostered to fly or not] we’re always around, helping out. We make sure all the passengers are happy and that everyone gets all their photos, check out the aircraft and fuel them ready for tomorrow – all that sort of stuff.”

Amanda bolstered her employability, too, initially obtaining her fixed-wing Commercial Licence before converting into helis. That was another of Paul’s primary pieces of advice – a bit of an industry hack that not many student heli pilots are taking advantage of.

“Actually, it amazes me that more people don’t take that pathway,” he says, “Because – in Australia, anyway – it’s cheaper and you get two licences. It’s logical because the procedures, the navigation – the majority of it’s the same; so you may as well spend it in a Cessna that’s costing you two hundred dollars an hour, rather than a heli that’s costing you six to eight hundred dollars an hour. You’re just going to be doing the same thing.”

Today, it’s working for Ayers Rock Helicopters – if they’re short a fixed-wing pilot, Amanda can step out of the Robinson 44 and straight into the C172. With the uncertainty that Covid inspires these days, possessing this kind of flexibility and adaptability is a desirable trait.

Luckily, despite state-by-state lockdowns prompted by our open-ended pandemic, tourism in the Northern Territory is still experiencing an influx of national travellers. Waves of Australians, young and old, are taking to endless, red-dirt roads to experience everything their country has to offer. A scenic flight from Yulara is a bucket-list item.

“My favourite is probably flying up to Kings Canyon,” Amanda agrees. “We land at Kings Creek Station up there. Flying around that area is absolutely stunning. So is Uluru-Kata Tjuta – but that area, up there – I love it. It’s definitely more of an Outback feel, in terms of gravel strips, out-of-this-world scenery, and features.”

Amanda’s calm demeanor and easy conviviality will surely go on to strike confidence into the hearts of guests and passengers for years to come, across a long and fulfilling aviation career. 

It’s pretty clear that she was born for it.

First published in HeliOps Magazine – Issue 133 (Kia Kaha Media) in ‘A Greater View’, a column profiling women in the heli industry

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