Off to the Land Down Under with Civil Air Patrol

Civil Air Patrol cadet Lydia Wiff of Cologne recently enjoyed a trip to Australia. She is shown here “piloting” the mighty C-17 aircraft. Submitted photo

Editor’s Note: Lydia Wiff of Cologne is a sophomore at Normandale Community College double majoring in Commercial Aviation and Business Economics.

Next fall she plans to transfer to the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks to finish her degrees. She is also currently training for her private pilot’s license through the Civil Air Patrol with Viking Squadron.

In addition to her schooling, Wiff works as a Customer Service Representative with Inflight Pilot Training, LLC out of Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie.

By Lydia Wiff
Guest writer

Looking back over the last five years as a Civil Air Patrol Cadet (CAP), I would call CAP the “program of opportunity.” This summer I was an Air Cadet in the 2012 International Air Cadet Exchange (IACE): a program that proved, once again, that CAP provides aviation opportunities to Cadets all over the country while developing young men and women into future leaders in their communities and nation. As a college sophomore studying Commercial Aviation, this opportunity to travel and experience aviation in a new country was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Come with me as we embark on journey of “friendship and aviation” in a country named Australia.

The journey was filled with its share of adventures. U.S. Cadets traveling to the Pacific Rim met in San Francisco, Calif. Even though we were in San Francisco for just a day, there was the opportunity for photos in front of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and a trip to the famous Fisherman’s Wharf to take in the local culture.

Our group traveling to Australia included cadets from Texas, Nebraska, Missouri, Connecticut, and Minnesota, including a Senior Member Escort from Pennsylvania. From San Francisco, our group of six headed for Australia after a short flight to Los Angeles. Because of the 15-hour time difference and crossing the International Date Line, we skipped July 16 entirely and arrived in Sydney on July 17.

After clearing customs in Sydney, picking up our luggage, and re-checking in at security in the domestic terminal, we anxiously awaited to board our flight to Brisbane where our adventure would really begin.

Australia is essentially a massive island with a population of over 22 million people. Over 85 percent of the population lives within 50 kilometers of the coastline. All the cities we visited are located on the east coast of Australia; Brisbane being the most northern city. Because Australia is south of the Equator, it was actually winter in July. Brisbane, even though it was the most northern city, was also the warmest with an average temperature of 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Since we only had 2.5 weeks total in Australia, our scheduled was as packed as much as possible to give us the Australian experience. We were on-the-go from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on a daily basis. The Australian Zoo was our first tour in Brisbane and one of my favorites. In addition to seeing many of the different animals indigenous to Australia, we also saw elephants, tigers, and zebras. Steve Irwin, who was best known for his show “The Crocodile Hunter,” originally started the zoo. My favorite part of the zoo was getting to stroke a koala, holding a baby crocodile, and feeding a kangaroo.

While the kangaroos at the zoo where very tame, they are still wild animals in Australia and are considered a pest — similar to the deer here in Minnesota. Because of the high possibility of a kangaroo strike, people actually do install “kangaroo bars” on their “utes” (which is the Aussie slang word for utility vehicles).

During our time in Australia, we visited many locations that had an aviation theme. My personal favorite was Boeing Defense Australia (BDA) located in downtown Brisbane. I would describe BDA as the corporate headquarters for all commercial and military aviation in Australia. At BDA we shared morning tea with many of the company’s executives and their military counterparts, giving cadets a chance to speak to some of the foremost leaders of Aviation in Australia. There was also a presentation on BDA’s impact on aviation in Australia on both the commercial and military fronts.

One of my favorite experiences at BDA was the chance to fly the F-18 Super Hornet simulator, which is the fighter jet of choice for Australia’s military. We were part of a study being conducted testing whether a two-man crew was more effective than a one-man crew. After running through two groups, there was strong evidence for both types of crews. The results from both groups were recorded BDA’s previous data. It is very exciting to be able to say that we contributed to BDA’s research.

After our simulator time, we had a briefing from Charlie Stone, BDA’s Chief Pilot. Prior to working for BDA, he flew helicopters in the Australian Army. As a former Australian Air Force Cadet (AAFC), he often referred to his experiences in program and how it shaped his future. It was evident that as CAP produces some of the finest leaders in many areas of aviation, so does the AAFC.

In addition to meeting those involved with the current Aviation in Australia, we were also able to meet veterans that served in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). In Brisbane I had the opportunity to meet one such veteran, World War II Ace Robert Chester-Master. Mr. Chester-Master served as a rear gunner on the Lancaster bomber and is truly a war hero. It was an honor to meet Mr. Chester-Master who is a very important part of Australian Aviation History.

We were flown from Brisbane to Canberra in the C-130 Hercules, which was originally a transport aircraft belonging to the U.S. Air Force. There are 20 C-130s that are owned by Australia which are used by the RAAF on a regular basis. The RAAF also owns aircraft such as the KC-30A and the C-17. Their fleet of six C-17s was originally purchased from the U.S. Air Force and there is currently a 6th one on order. The C-130 may not be the most comfortable ride, but a memory I will not soon forget is being picked to ride on the flight deck while on approach to Canberra.

Canberra, the National Capitol of Australia, is located about four hours southwest of Brisbane by plane and approximately 750 miles by car. Canberra was picked to be the location for the capitol, and as a result, an international design competition was held in 1911 to design the city.  The winning design was awarded to Walter and Marion Griffin, a couple from Chicago, Ill. The city is unique in that in the center is the Parliamentary Triangle, which is composed of Parliament House, the Defense Headquarters, and City Hill. The whole city, when originally built, was very geometric, and even has a man-made lake, Lake Burley Griffin, running through the middle.

Similar to Washington, D.C., Canberra is full of museums and monuments including those that line Anzac Parade Road. The most famous is the Australian War Memorial, a museum which houses over four million artifacts from every war conflict Australia has been in from before 1914 to the present war in the Middle East.

Two walls, each approximately 100 feet long, line the left and right sides of the courtyard with over 102,000 names of those killed in action. Hundreds of red poppies, a symbol of sleep and death, are stuck in the cracks between brass plates by family and friends. The whole scene is a thought-provoking one and reminded me that even in other countries, freedom has its ultimate price.

Like the U.S., Australia also has many prestigious civilian and military universities and colleges. While in Canberra, we were able to visit one such university; the Australian Defense Force Academy (ADFA) or the University of New South Wales. The ADFA is home to many of the cadet training programs very similar to the Reserve Officer Training Corps Program (ROTC) here in the U.S. Like the U.S. ROTC students, the ADFA students go on to become active members of the Australian Defense Force. Our tour included a look at the civilian side of the university through their science and technology departments and a look at the military side with a peek into the dorm life of military students.

The highlight of the visit was the above-pool obstacle course where students are challenged to traverse rope ladders, plastic tubes, monkey bars, and balance beams 10 to 15 feet over a pool. While at first it can be intimidating, it is actually a lot of fun and I found it was a way to push myself physically and mentally.

Towards the end of our stay in Canberra, we were guests at the IACE Dinner hosted by RAAF at the Officer’s Club located at the ADFA. In attendance were many important guests representing aviation in Australia such as Air Marshals Geoff Brown, Vice Chief of the Air Force, and Mark Binskin, Chief of the Defense Force.

During the dinner there were many speeches from many of the dignitaries representing the RAAF, AAFC, and BDA. An IACE Cadet from each country was picked in advance to make a thank-you speech on behalf of their country and present a token of appreciation to Group Captain Ken Given. My favorite part of that evening was the chance to talk to the foremost leaders for both the civilian and military sides of Aviation in Australia.

After a fun filled, but short visit in Canberra, we took a four-plus hour road trip to Sydney. We made a side-trip to the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (CDPSCC) about two hours away from Canberra, tucked away in the Tidbinbilla Valley region. The complex is one of three deep space communications centers in the world and was responsible for relaying communication signals during the Apollo missions.

The complex houses three massive antennas; the biggest is approximately 70 meters across. Inside the visitors’ center is the Moon Rock Café and many exhibits on NASA and the space program. The center is very similar to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The road trip to Sydney was fun-filled with lively chatter from the IACE Cadets who all were very excited to be visiting one of the most famous cities in the world. You could sense the anticipation building as we rolled into Sydney in the early evening. After dropping our luggage off at Randwick Barracks, we headed into Sydney for a evening bus tour which included stops at the Sydney Harbor Bridge and the Sydney Opera House. The sight was even more spectacular than any pictures I had seen before.

We spent five days in Sydney, which were packed to make our last few days as meaningful as possible. We visited a famous natural landmark, the Three Sisters, a spectacular rock formation located in the Blue Mountains. One of my favorite memories of Sydney was our Harbor Cruise around Darling Harbor. We sailed under the famous Sydney Harbor Bridge and right past the Sydney Opera House. In addition to our visits to museums, we embarked on some more touristy outings such as seeing the blockbuster “The Dark Night Rises” on the world’s largest IMAX screen. We also shopped at Paddy’s Market, the cheapest place to buy souvenirs in Sydney. After over two weeks in Australia, many of us bought an extra suitcase to carry back souvenirs for our friends and family.

Our last two days in Australia were our free days and we had a choice of either jet boating on Darling Harbor or surfing on Bondi Beach. I chose to go jet boating and experienced a fantastic view of Darling Harbor. On our final day some explored the city, others took a helicopter ride, and some hit the beach again or took a horseback ride outside the city. We had a farewell BBQ at the Randwick Barracks which was the highlight of the day for me. On the menu were more exotic meats such as lamb, kangaroo and crocodile! For the less adventurous among us, there were hot dogs and burgers too. It was an evening filled with fun speeches from each country, tokens of appreciation, pictures, and fond good-bye’s to our new friends.

Our staff in Australia gave us a “slice” of a magnificent, amazing country and used their personal time to make the activity a success. Many thanks goes to Wing Commander Tony Lee, the activity director, and Squadron Leader Craig Fechner. Both traveled tirelessly with our large group of 41 every single day. Their knowledge on Australia was invaluable and added greatly to the overall experience.

Looking back at the trip to Australia, I would say that it was the most amazing CAP activity I have been fortunate enough in which to participate. IACE gives young adults from all over the world the opportunity to see another country and its aviation background in an educational and fun-filled setting. It is “the” opportunity of a lifetime and one that I will draw from many years.

Time after time, CAP has provided me with many opportunities related to aviation and this trip was one of the best exposures I have ever had in the field. Because of CAP, someday I may be saying, “This is your Captain speaking…” on your trip to the great country of Australia!