Quietly Efficient.

Phillip Zupp in King Air


Quietly Efficient.

My dad was a man of few words but when they were uttered – you listened. He wasn’t one for social settings and small talk, preferring the solitude of a good book, or crafting something from wooden crates on his garage bench. Still, he was effective in conveying simple messages through the way he lived his life and in the early hours of this morning, one of those lessons came to mind.
Dad spent his final years as a commercial pilot flying the NSW Air Ambulance. Despite having flown everything from Cessnas to Super Constellations in his civil career, he rated the Air Ambulance as the best job he’d had without being shot at.It was a small team tasked with a clear objective – he liked that.

I was fortunate in that I would sometimes go to work with him and sit up the front of the Beechcraft Queen Air, a curtain drawn across to separate the grim reality of the cabin from the cockpit. Part of his role was being on standby, which called for him to have the aircraft airborne within 90 minutes from our home phone ringing – no mobile phones back then. In the wee hours, I would often hear the phone and minutes later I would hear whistling as he walked down to open the front gate. He was going flying.

He would always “build his shirt” before he went to bed, fitting wings, epaulettes and an ID card. Shoes would be shined, nav bag primed, uniform hat, coat and tie at the ready. When I accompanied him, I was expected to keep pace in near silence to avoid waking the household and within minutes we would be on the road. We would obey every road rule and every amber light, regardless of the hour and the degree of urgency. We would swing into Sydney Airport and park outside the Briefing Office. He would take up his position at one of the sloping benches, each with a chart trapped beneath a sheet of glass. The speed, accuracy and neatness with which he filled out his flight plan was a work of art. Still, there was no sense of rushing.

I remember feeling very proud as I walked with him to submit his flight plan to the Briefing Officer. All of the other pilots knew him and a good many he had either trained to fly the Air Ambulance or sent solo in a previous life. They always happily wished him a good morning, keen for chat, but he would respectfully nod and say g’day – there was work to be done. The Met Man and the Briefing Officer were on first name terms and with the flight plan stamped as “Approved”, we were bound for the hangar. Once there he would introduce me to the Flight Sister before setting up his cockpit and preflighting the aircraft. All on board, door closed, towed out of the hangar and cleared to start both engines. Soon Sydney Airport was falling away from the wheels and 90 minutes was yet to arrive.

On looking back, I recall how he was never rushed and never wasted a moment. He was always well prepared and moved efficiently though every single task. If something changed, he was never flustered – he would simply refocus and do what needed to be done. It was the same way that he flew the aircraft – smooth, efficient and unhurried. Prepare – Plan – Proceed.

He was not perfect. If he had to deal with phone bills, bank accounts or salesman, I could hear his blood pressure rising by the minute. He didn’t suffer fools or fakes lightly. But to see him undertake a critical task was a lesson in efficiency. It goes without saying that I owe the “old man” a lot and many of his lessons have held me in good stead in life and work. However, I’ll always remember those dark mornings in the cockpit of the Queen Air, his face dimly lit by the glow of the instruments.

I’ve always considered myself very fortunate to have been schooled by one of the best aviators that I have ever met. He was my Dad.

Without Precedent Zupp