What Bush Flying Taught Me About Life And 2020

The bush flying part of my aviation career was some of the most valuable flying and life experience I’ve ever had.  At 19, I didn’t have a hell of a lot of life experience to build on and being sent off to the far reaches of Zimbabwe with the C206 I’d been allocated seemed like the biggest adventure ever!  I barely had a Commercial Pilots Licence and living out of a tourist resort, responsible for using the 50 hours my aircraft had between maintenance checks to ferry tourists across Lake Kariba and around the Zambezi Valley and the surrounding countryside, was the beginning of a new life chapter.  It was the taken-for-granted way to grow new CPLs – in at the deep end.
I was instantly responsible for my aircraft, organising the flying schedule to meet the incoming and outgoing passenger requirements, planning for additional charters when we could fit them in, and keeping myself alive in between all of that.  I learned fast to plan for fuel (which was only available at Kariba Airport on the other side of the lake, or at one of the larger airports a few more hours further), to plan timing of flights, to allow for passenger’s inability to pack within the luggage allowance they’d been allocated, and how to politely explain that the wooden giraffe they’d bought wouldn’t fit in the aircraft unless I made kindling out of it…
I learned a lot about people.  I learned how each camp manager did things slightly differently and to allow for it.  I learned that each load of passengers comes with slightly different intricacies, from fidgety children, to fidgety adults who won’t listen when you ask them not to play with the aircraft controls.  I learned how to allow for people’s fear and to calm it.
More than anything else, I learned from the flying.
When you’re 19, the lessons come thick and fast, and all you can do is absorb them and advance.  I learned immediately that I knew just enough to do my job, but that doing it well required I continue to learn like drinking from a fire hydrant.  I learned just how much the tint of my aircraft windows can decrease the sunset limitations I’d allowed for.  I learned to listen intently to the sound of my engine and what she was telling me on any given day or journey.  I learned that weather and wild animals can’t be controlled and can only be respected and allowed for.  I learned to read a thunderstorm by the direction of the wind and how it manipulated my airspeed.  I learned to set boundaries – with myself, with my limitations, with other people.  I tested boundaries too…. many of them, and consequently learned many things only discussed in pilot crew rooms and Flying Club bars.
I learned the most from the moments that scared me a little (or a lot).  The moments that stretched my comfort zone and my perspective.  The moments where I had to admit I was wrong, and those when I had to ask for help.  The moments where the unexpected left me to “make a plan” and figure out how to solve what I couldn’t have seen coming.  I learned a lot about myself in the many hours flying alone, and the experience of living away from what I knew.  I learned to allocate respect where it was due, and that assuming I was infallible was a short route to being shown I was not.
Bush flying insisted on symbiotic relationships between me and my aircraft, between me and the camps I stayed in, between me and the other members of the aviation and tourism communities.  It taught me that I am both on my own in terms of what I am responsible for, and part of a greater community and outcome in terms of the part I play in the bigger picture.
As I stand here at the beginning of a new year – 2021 no less – the year I have just come through feels much like my entire bush flying experience shoved into a small, short space.  2020 was unpredictable at best.  It reminded me that I am both on my own in terms of my responsibility for self, and part of a larger community on which I can draw and to which my contribution is valuable.  It reminded me of the value of action underpinned by having paused for thought first.  It reminded me that I can take the first few steps and then adjust my plan for whatever comes next.  It reminded me to take nothing and nobody for granted, to think on my feet and not fixate on any one thing for too long.
It reminded me to look for the beauty that punctuates every day, because these are the moments of joy that we chart our lives by.
2020 reminded me that lessons and change are inevitable, and that they strengthen us for the journeys that come next.  That patience in the face of that change allows you space and time to breath, as well as revealing the gems in each moment that would otherwise be lost.  2020 reminded me that timing is everything, but timing isn’t something I’m always in control of.  It reminded me not to live in an illusion about what I can control, because I’m only one step away from being shown how infallible I am if I try and exert control that is not mine.
2020 reminded me to be present.  To let go of things not meant for me.  To let go of trying to predict what lies ahead, at the same time as not relinquishing control over myself and the actions I can take.  2020 reminded me that I don’t need to force my way in life, and that how and where I allocate my energy has a huge part to play in my effectiveness.  Predictable or not, time rolls forward.  Our options are to remain attached to what may anchor us unnecessarily and consume our energy, or to let go and direct that energy towards the present moment, and the morphing reality of every next day.  2020 reminded me to live.  Bring on 2021…

by Christen Killick

January 4th, 2021


  1. pete schuil on January 4, 2021 at 5:29 am

    Thanks for the great thoughts! SO much of a reminder of my own flying – each day has amazing blessings that we miss if we aren’t present in the moment.

    • Christen Killick on February 15, 2021 at 3:39 pm

      Thanks Pete – It really is a gift – our bush flying experience!

  2. Wally Richards on January 5, 2021 at 4:21 am

    Oh my, Christen. Wonderful sentiments lyrically expressed! There is great advice for everyone in what you have written. Your Dad would be so proud of you! Thank you.

    • Christen Killick on February 15, 2021 at 3:38 pm

      Thank you, Wally – I really appreciate your feedback. I really do wish I could have shared my flying with him.

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