Lionel's life in the skies

By: Lionel Mussell, Photography by: Lionel Mussell


After a helicopter trip of a lifetime in 2016, avid flyer Lionel Mussell reflects on his life above the clouds.

Looking back on my travels last year and I see the highlight was the time I actually flew a helicopter – yes, you heard it right! I actually had the controls and was flying the machine up in the bright blue sky with the city and harbour of Mackay, Qld, bathed in sunshine and just asking to be photographed. I was too busy watching the horizon and keeping the chopper flying straight and level to bother with a camera – but it’s all indelibly engraved on my brain anyway.

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ATHERTON FROM THE AIR

I jump into a helicopter whenever there’s a chance and the previous year I seized the opportunity to fly over the lovely Atherton Tableland -- but that was as a passenger and I did manage to get some stunning pictures like the one of the Walkamin Caravan Park – copies of that pic are always in demand from RVers staying in my favourite park and last year someone even made it into a pillow cover.

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FLYING OVER VANUATU

A few years back I was on a Pacific cruise with members of Apex 40 – it was the first time our AGM had been held at sea.

When we docked at Vanuatu, once again I jumped at the chance of seeing the island from the air but didn’t realise it involved three kinds of transport – a bus trip into the city, a boat ride out to the pontoon where the helicopter operated and then the flight itself.

It was great - but I took video that time so don’t have any pictures.

TASSIE’S TAMAR VALLEY FROM ON HIGH

I was staying with a friend in Tassie where I’d helped him start a Tasmanian Branch of the Australian Caravan Club and, as a payback for his great hospitality, I shouted us both a helicopter trip up the lovely Tamar Valley. The view from the air was great but we wanted to see it again from the ground so finished a great day out by having quails for dinner at a lovely little hotel overlooking the Tamar River.

BEAUTIFUL BUNGLE BUNGLES

I’d done a fixed wing plane trip over Lake Eyre and the Bungle Bungles but when I saw a sign at the road at Maple Downs, I couldn’t resist taking them up on the offer of helicopter rides into the Bungles.

It wasn’t cheap but worth every cent as we were almost at ground level as we hovered near those fascinating striped mounds – sights you couldn’t replicate from higher up.

The Bungles are much more spectacular close up from a helicopter.

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ON THE QUEEN’S DIME!

I’m not sure if the Queen paid, as I’m sure it was more likely the British taxpayers who financed it, but the 2000 hours I spent flying all over the world as a Flight Engineer in Transport Command, RAF, was an unforgettable time in my life.

We did short trips that took us to the Canal Zone via Malta, longer hauls to Ceylon and Singapore via Iraq and India, a couple of trips to Hong Kong, a few visits to Australia and one flight taking British troops to Kenya during the Mau Mau troubles. That was the only time when we were issued with revolvers – but with no ammunition!

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SMALL PLANES

During my time in the RAF, I often cadged a flight with our second pilots who had to keep their hand in by flying Tiger Moths and Chipmunks.

In civilian life here in Australia, I started having flying lessons but ran out of money before getting my pilot’s licence. The little plane was a far cry from the four-engine aircraft I’d been used to in the RAF.

MAJOR AIRLINES

As an airline passenger, I’ve done one trip around the world with stops at Hawaii, San Francisco, Ottawa, London, and Johannesburg, plus a JetSet tour to Bali, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur plus a trip back to the UK where I bought a motorhome and toured the UK and France for three-and-a-half months.

I also flew to New Zealand a few years ago where I joined other members of the Australian Caravan Club for a wonderful tagalong tour of the North Island. There were 17 couples and me so we hired 18 motorhomes for our epic journey.

As an Overseas Member of ‘The Caravan Club’, I took the opportunity of staying in the club’s caravan sites (parks to us) and cheaper little certified locations. I also took advantage of their discounts for travel to France where I used the wonderful free camping scheme called ‘France Passion’.

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BALLOONING

I’ve done a few ballooning trips – very serene and scenic - but they don’t get the adrenaline going until the landing bump!

Ballooning doesn’t make the adrenalin flow like a helicopter does - but it’s a very serene flight.

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WHAT NOW?

I don’t know what the future holds but I’m sure that if any flying trips come along I’ll be at the front of the queue!