Small piece of Australian aviation history ends with retirement of Captain Gordon Phillips
The Daily Telegraph
June 29 2013
WHEN Captain Gordon Phillips stepped out of his Qantas A380 cockpit in Sydney on Wednesday morning, a small piece of Australian aviation history came to end.
The moment marked the end of an incredible 45-year career for Capt Phillips who, until that moment, was the longest-serving Qantas pilot still in the job.
Capt Phillips, 64, was given a rousing cheer by his passengers as he completed his final flight, ending a remarkable journey that began as a teenager on a farm in Swan Hill, Victoria.
With a childhood dream to fly, the then 16-year-old applied for both the air force and Qantas, which had just begun its cadet program. He was accepted into both, but chose the civilian route.
The following year he relocated to Sydney to begin training at Mascot and less than two years later was presented with his wings by the then Governor-General Lord Richard Casey at a ceremony inside a Qantas hangar at Sydney airport.
But instead of flying Qantas passenger planes, the 20 graduates first had to get some experience, with Capt Phillips picking up work for a company in the Solomon Islands, flying in and out of jungle airstrips, many cut during WWII.
For a young man from rural Victoria who had never left Australia it was the experience of a lifetime - flying small aircraft into remote airstrips and soaking up the island life.
"That time is still a very precious part of my career," he said yesterday.
After 14 months, Capt Phillips returned to Australia and began training to fly Qantas' flagship Boeing 707, a four-engine jet aircraft larger and more powerful than anything he had flown before.
"It was pretty exciting and a bit scary for guys who had been flying around in light aircraft," he said.
His first commercial flight for Qantas was to London as a second officer in training. That was in May, 1970, an era when pilots were globetrotters.
"I don't think my colleagues believe. A typical London trip was nine or 10 days, 16 legs," he said.
"We would do something like Sydney-Bali-Singapore. Overnight (in Singapore) then do Singapore-Kuala Lumpur-Colombo-Bahrain. Then maybe Bahrain-Istanbul-Rome and London."
Out of the scores of places he has flown to, Capt Phillips listed Bermuda at the top.
"We didn't have long there, but we would jump on our pedalos (pedal-start motorbikes) and race around the island. It was a different atmosphere out there. You could almost feel the pirate ships in the coves," he said.
Over the following 33 years, Capt Phillips flew Boeing 747s, 767s and 747-400s before making the switch to the giant Airbus A380 five years ago - a plane with technology that was unimaginable when he began flying.
In his 45 years as an aviator, Capt Philips has flown the equivalent of 400 laps of the globe and carried just under a million passengers.
With such a long record, he was bound to have had a few hair-raising mid-air moments.
He said he had experienced his fair share of "lost" engines - an event he describes as an "inconvenience".
"I've been on flights where we've had to shut engines down or they have failed. It's what we train for," he said.
With his 65th birthday looming in February - the age at which international pilots must retire - Capt Phillips made the decision to give up the life of a pilot.
He made his final trip to London and back this month with his wife, Ruth, joining him for the entire journey.
Before he left Dubai to fly into Sydney he was surprised by his son Alexander, who flies for Shenzhen Airlines in China and will soon follow in his dad's footsteps and become a Qantas pilot.
WHO: Retired captain Gordon Phillips
Entered service: 30 March 1968
Retired: 26 June 2013
Miles flown: 10million, the equivalent 400 times around the world.
Hours flown: 26,000
Lost engines: 4
Best airport: Singapore
Worst airport: Harere, Zimbabwe.
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