Ken Johnson

Hey! I’m Ken, I’m a freight dog, a flying instructor and overall GA enthusiast. I love flying aerobatics on the weekends and teaching students, as well as writing about my passion for aviation.

I’ve been flying for more than half my life; I currently work as a professional cargo pilot, and in my spare time I love getting out amongst GA and flying aerobatics, formation and instructional sorties, as well as mentoring my student network.

My first taste of flying was of course in a trusty single engine aircraft – A Cessna 172 to be precise. My Dad had hired an aircraft to survey our farms boundaries and fence lines and I was lucky enough to come along for the ride – Ever since then I have been hooked!

Growing up, everyone recognised my passion for Aviation and I even joined the Cadets for my shot at getting up and close to some heavy duty military aircraft – it worked, and at aged 15 I got my shot to fly in the back of a Royal Australian Air Force KA-350 Super King Air as we flew around the countryside as well as an exhilarating coastal low level segment along the beaches!

Unfortunately I couldn’t initially afford the cost of flying lessons and I failed more aptitude screening tests than I would like to admit, so didn’t get accepted into any airline academies or scholarships – I had to take the scenic route to becoming a pilot. I knuckled down in school and Initially trained as an engineer, working several jobs and spending all of my money at flying schools on the weekends. I was able to achieve a PPL and spent many weekends criss-crossing the country side with my sights set firmly on gaining a commercial licence!

Having achieved the pre-requisite 200 hours and exam completions, I confidently strutted up to my Flight Examiner and then promptly failed my CPL test. It turned out there was a bit more to it than just pressing ‘direct to’ on the GPS and my iPad. Three weeks, $10,000, 30 hours and 10 training sorties later, I passed my CPL test and was welcomed into the world of professional aviation.

My First Job as a Pilot

It took me a few years to secure my first casual flying job, so I kept throwing money into the pit that was General Aviation to keep my skills up – loving every moment of it. I learned how to fly at night, aerobatics and even how to fly in formation. I tried my hand at crop dusting and got a low-level flying endorsement, as well as instrument flying and eventually achieved a Multi-Engine Command Instrument Rating learning to fly the mighty Beech Baron twin. I kept stretching my brain and even managed to pass all of the Australian Air Transport Pilot Licence exams for both Aeroplane and Helicopters.

I finally got my foot in the door with my first ever pilot job, flying Yak-52 and Nanchang CJ-6A Radial engine warbirds doing adventure thrill flights on weekends. It started with me just going into the hangar for a chat, asking if I might see the aircraft and then offering help on the weekends. Every Saturday and Sunday for about 3 months I helped roll the aircraft in and out of the hangar, deal with customers and help brief and strap them into the plane, as well as of course cleaning up the endless supply of oil that seemed to end up all over the cowl, belly and wings of the aircraft (and the tarmac). I continued to ask if I might hire the aircraft and eventually they said yes – I paid $5,000 for 10 hours of instruction on a Nanchang, and at the end the chief pilot said “well mate, you know how the system works and you keep turning up so you may as well work here – you’re cleared live to fly next weekend!”

Becoming a Flying Instructor

After my first taste of commercial flying I was hooked, and to continue my professional development I became a flying instructor. Most flying schools won’t hire you as a casual instructor (especially as a junior grade 3 or brand new instructor) unless you bring your own students, so I put ads everywhere – online, shopping centres, talking to anyone I could. The hustle worked, and I had soon managed to clock up 100 hours ‘Volunteering’ as a flying instructor for free (with potential students just paying the aircraft hire cost). I finally managed to ditch my title of ‘junior’ and the few schools I was casually flying for started to even assign me ‘walk-ins’ as potential new clients.

As I became more experienced as an instructor I progressed through the rating system, training for and earning the right to teach aerobatics, spinning, formation and multi engine work, as well as the standard design endorsements like manual propeller pitch control, tail wheel and retractable undercarriage. I remember being put through my paces quite hard going for my Grade two instructor rating, as the testing officer started doing seemingly random and unpredictable things to simulate what a trouble student might be like – Trust me, you’ve never had your heart skip quite as many beats as when you are dealing with a troubled student that doesn’t quite grasp the concept of the word “FLARE NOW”

Finally – a Commercial Pilot!

Eventually, I managed to log a few thousand hours and I was able to secure a full-time professional flying job. I thought this would be impossible as I had applied for literally thousands of flying jobs over 5 years with almost every airline you could think of – I would always seem to get knocked off the applicant list somehow. This was particularly soul-crushing after getting as far as actual simulator assessments or flight trials, some of which meant flying long distances and took weeks to physically go through. Anyway, my refusal to take no for an answer eventually landed me a job and now I fly cargo all over Australia and the world (although since COVID-19 the international sectors have taken a hit).

Looking back on 15 years of flying I recently chalked up half a year in the sky (4,400 hours) which was a pretty cool milestone to reach, and I’m following in the footsteps of some of my senior pilots and instructors (one of which has over 20,000 hours logged!). I still learn (and re-learn!) new and important flying skills every single day – My philosophy is that being in Aviation means a commitment to life-long learning; when you think you ‘know-it-all’ its time to hand back your licence!

If you want to get in touch with me, please leave me a message via our contact form