Living on Lord Howe Island


Plane spotting

Posted by Dani Rourke – Saturday, June 15, 2013

A big plane on Lord Howe IslandThere are a lot of plane nerds at Lord Howe. The airstrip is short and if the weather is looking a bit tricky and the landing might be an “interesting” one, there can sometimes be a hundred people lined up along the airstrip to see the QantasLink plane land. (Yes, I know, it might also have something to do with the fact that there isn’t much entertainment here on a winter afternoon).

I’ve seen the plane-watchers applaud when, despite the difficult conditions, the pilot pulls off a smooth landing. And, very occasionally, the pilot, having seen the audience, will disembark and take a bow. People here often start conversations with “did you see the landing today?”. They all seem to know the details of the comings and goings of the various freight planes and charter planes. We even have a friend, Peter Phillipps, who wrote a whole book about the flying boats at Lord Howe. He loves taking photos of the various planes that visit Lord Howe and, even though he’s run a busy and successful tour business for the last 10 years, he still works one day a week at the airport. I’m almost certain that he keeps the airport job just so that he can get really close to all those planes.

We’ve had a Hercules from Richmond RAAF base at Lord Howe for a few days doing practice landings. The whole process is utterly mesmerising. You can hear the plane long before you see it. As it gets closer and louder, you suddenly see how enormous it is and wonder how it could ever land on such a short strip. It seems to be moving slowly but when it goes past you there’s an incredible noise and a rush of hot air. The landings are even more exciting at night, when the airport’s emergency lights are turned on.

When I was a kid at Lord Howe I used to love watching the Hercules do practice landings. The game was to sit on the rocks at the end of the airstrip. It was a scary place to sit, because the Hercules lands at the start of the strip, about 20 metres away. When it landed at dusk, it would approach with the lights off and then turn the lights on at the last minute. As it was approaching, it always looked like it was going to land right on top of us. Usually, someone said something stupid, like: “I’ve never seen it come in this low before…” and we would all start to scream. We were much too scared to run away. So we’d hold on tight to the rocks and each other, close our eyes and scream and the Hercules would fly over our heads with an enormous roar and a huge gush of hot air and after a minute or two we’d all start to breathe again. One day, one of the bigger kids came up with an improvement. For every landing, you had to move up one rock higher. By the time the Hercules finished its practice landings for the night, we were practically sitting on the end of the airstrip. Sure beats Xbox.

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About Dani Rourke

HELP! I have 2 children, 25 staff and up to 75 guests. I was a lawyer for 10 years, but escaped. My husband and I moved from Sydney to beautiful Lord Howe Island to run Pinetrees Lodge, which has been in my family for 6 generations. I'm writing about family business, island life and the whole work/family disaster. Did someone say balance? When I'm not writing, my lovely staff do it for me - they see more of the island than I do.

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