Fate is the Hunter.

Owen Zupp Boeing 787 Flight Deck


Fate is the Hunter.

In the classic aviation book, “Fate is the Hunter” by Ernest Gann, Gann says we must believe in our own personal fortune and destiny in order to have any chance of survival. Fate itself is indeed the hunter and when it is ready to take us it certainly will.

As I sat in my hotel room in Yokohama, I reflected on those words. Fate had definitely been stalking me when it had me on the operating table and tortured me through the months of recovery. But now Mt Fuji sat outside my window and the previous night we had swept through the stratosphere on our way to Japan – all despite fate’s best efforts.

The sights and sounds of Japan had escaped my for years but now the taste of Gyozas and the sea of street signs filled my senses, I knew that I was back. Still, even though I was happy to be there, the greater degree of excitement was reserved for the flight home the next day. The contemplation of sitting at the controls once again and taking the Boeing 787 into the sky was like being a kid waiting for Christmas.

Qantas Yokohama Owen Zupp

When dawn crept beneath the curtain in my room, I was already dressed and poring over the weather forecasts, charts and various notices that would affect our flight – QF26. As I readied to depart, Kirrily had just touched down from Los Angeles and we shared a “ships in the night” moment on FaceTime, although we would both be under the same roof that night.

The preflight checks completed, we pushed back, parked the brakes and disconnected the tug. Ever-efficient, the three-man Japanese ground crew stood to the side, holding high the flagged gear pin to show that they had fully disconnected the aircraft and all waved goodbye in unison. I waved back in acknowledgement when to my surprise, they all snapped off a salute. I waved again, although I doubt they saw my broad smile.

Having relinquished my command to move to the 787, I had to realign my perspective to the right seat as I steered the jet, my legs effectively straddling the yellow guideline on the taxiway. On the way out to Tokyo’s Runway 05, we crossed a bridge with the water lapping beneath our airframe and memories of the 747 came flooding back.

At runway’s end, my excitement gave way to focus as I advanced the thrust levers, waited for the engines to stabilise and then set the 787 on its way with a press of the Toga buttons. We rumbled down the runway with the reassuring bump-bump-bump as the runway’s centreline lights passed beneath the nose wheel. The automation called “V1” and then the captain added “Rotate” and I eased the jet into the sky, raising its nose at a little over 2.5 degrees/second. I was flying again.

At 500 feet I rolled into a right turn and climbed away from the Japanese capital as my eyes scanned through the green Head-Up Display (HUD) in front of me . I reluctantly engaged the autopilot, still guarding the controls with my hands as Mount Fuji sat out to our right, providing a natural beacon until we reached our cruise altitude.

Owen Zupp Mount Fuji

In the world of international flying, a daylight flight can sometimes prove to be a rarity. As such, it was a blessing that my return to flying laid out the planet before me, bathed in the brightest sunlight. As a closet historian, it was significant to see Saipan and Guam slide by, where bloody battles had taken place in World War Two. The island of Tinian, with its runways visible where the B-29 Superfortress, “Enola Gay” had departed in August 1945 to deliver its devastating atomic payload.

WE crossed the northern coast of New Guinea to the east of Wewak, where my father had landed as a 19-year old commando as the war drew to a close. And Port Moresby, where I had landed as a 26-year old pilot as my aviation career began. As we transited Queensland and New South Wales, the sun grew ever lower and my first landing back was destined to be at night.

Sydney’s night lights welcomed us home and the approach lights of Runway 16 Left grew ever brighter as we descended towards our destination. Soon the runway’s threshold passed beneath the nose and as the radio altimeter spoke of our decreasing height above the bitumen, I eased back on the controls until the wheels became one with the earth again.

As I taxied back to the international terminal, a certain sense of elation stirred, although my concentration was upon the lights and markings of the taxiway. I must also admit to more sweat tinging my shirt than I remember, but after 417 days since my last landing in an actual aircraft, I guess the adrenaline was doing its job.

With the brakes parked and the shutdown checklist completed, a student pilot visited the flight deck. As he asked questions and posed for a photo in the left seat I was reminded that like him, I was once excited for my log book to boast 8 hours of flight time. To be honest, that excitement still hasn’t left me after 22,000 hours.

Yes, fate is the hunter but we still have the ability to make the most of every moment that we are given on this planet…and the skies that reside above it. 


Boeing 747 book Owen Zupp