It has been a while since we put a newsletter out, and probably for good reason.
Since August, we have had quite an interesting ride! Mid August saw the team off to Bundaberg for the Wide Bay International Air Show, which went very well. From there, I positioned the aircraft to Townsville, leaving it in the hands of the RAAF, while I then flew back home for two weeks. The team then met up again in Townsville and we repositioned to Ingham for the Ingham Wings and Wheels show, which also went extremely well.
On the way home, I stopped in for a display for the Regional Airline Association of Australia annual conference, before finally getting the aircraft home. We then had our first flying day for the Extra, with people enjoying the experience of flying with me in our newly engined and painted two-seat aircraft.
As we entered October, it was off to the Bathurst round of the V8 supercars. This was the first event we had both aircraft at, taking TV personality Tom Williams for a fly which was part of the Channel Seven broadcast on race day, and doing two unlimited aerobatic displays per day in the MXS, one which was broadcast live with a link to me in the cockpit.
After two days off, I sent the MXS to Perth with my good friend Shawn Matthews, while I flew over in an Airline. I then flew five displays for the SAAA Langley Park Fly In, and was the guest speaker at their dinner function on the Saturday night. It was great to be back in my old stomping ground where I achieved my best result racing of second place. I left the MXS in Perth with my old race Technician, Jack Moshovis, with the plan of returning in two weeks to then fly to the Barossa Air Show.
That was when things started to change direction rapidly. I had been having a few aches and pains in my lower back, and a little soreness in my left leg, though nothing that was causing too much concern. I spoke with my back surgeon, who recommended I get an MRI to see if there was anything unusual going on, which I did two days after returning from Perth. I was quite carefree about it, as I expected most of my pain was from fatigue over the last couple of weeks of intense flying. As it turned out, my surgeon called me and said I needed immediate back surgery, as I had a major haemorrhage of a lower disc that was going to cause permanent damage if left untreated. After some discussions it became quite clear that there was no other option, and I was booked in for surgery three days later.
In the meantime, we had to cancel seven events, and get the company put on autopilot for the next month or so while I would be out of action. It was terrible to have to cancel the events and I felt really bad for those that had invested in having me as part of their special day but unfortunately the injury was so severe there was no ability to delay the surgery.
The surgery went well, the surgeon doing a fantastic job, and looks like it will be a full recovery. After four weeks, I realised that I am not good at sitting around trying to take it easy, and I started to do some part time work back out at the RAAF base instructing in the simulator. As I write this, I am preparing to return to flying duties after six weeks of recovery, which is a good as anyone could expect. I will spend the next three months continuing with my recovery to get back to where I was, then a further 3 months working on a new strength program aimed at targeting more stability around the injured area, in a positive attempt to avoid another injury like this.
Everyone asks ‘What caused it?’, and the true answer is, we don’t know. Obviously I put my spine under a lot of pressure, with flying Military Jets for 18 years, Unlimited aerobatics for five years, and racing for two. We would be silly to think that the flying has not had some effect, though it is not necessarily the cause. Typically when I fly, I am in a great posture, and have very strong core muscles for my G tolerance. It is more likely that the injury has occurred during a period of relaxation, when I have not been focusing on my back, and possibly been sitting in a poor posture for an extended period of time.
From here, we have pretty much written off 2011, and taken the opportunity to work on 2012. I am still planning on be involved in the Jack Newton Celebrity Golf Classic, doing a display for their welcome function, and we are also working up for two displays on New Years Eve over Sydney Harbour. For 2012, we have already taken a number of bookings for the first few months, so the display and corporate speaking is growing well.
Just as exciting though are the developments we have been able to make with the Extra and the ability to take people for flying experiences. I have finally been able to find and purchase our own hangar, and as of the end of the year, Matt Hall Racing will be basing from Maitland airport in the Hunter Valley. We have been working with a few booking agencies setting up the ability to take online bookings for flights in the Extra, and I have trained up a number of pilots to fly the aircraft on my behalf (a total of 4 other people are now trained up on the two aircraft, and expect that to grow over Christmas). This all means we can start being more flexible with our flying days, rather than having to book around the availability of one or two pilots. We have also produced a promo video, which you can see by clicking here.
Congratulations to Ben Brazier, who won the inaugural MHR Scholarship. We established the scholarship early this year in partnership with the Australian Aerobatic Club, which I am now a patron of, to encourage young aerobatic pilots in the Club. The prize is awarded by the AAC board of Directors to a young pilot flying in Intermediate and below who demonstrates the most commitment and airmanship toward the competition year. For Ben, he traveled in his Pitts to every competition in Australia, winning his category every time. For his efforts, he will get to spend a weekend with me coaching for aerobatics, including three dual flights in my Extra, and three externally coached flights in his own aircraft.
Hopefully as we move into 2012, we will get some progressive news on the Air Race, we can continue to take the Race Plane around Australia demonstrating it’s amazing capabilities, I will be able to speak infront of a number of audiences about the amazing opportunities available in aviation, and we can allow a large number of people to experience unlimited flight in the Extra. That should be enough to keep the team and I busy!
Chase your dreams.