Six years ago Laura Koerbin’s flying instructor jumped out of the aircraft she was learning in, engines still whirring, and told Laura that she had control. The moment had arrived for Laura to reach for the skies alone. Since that first taste of freedom flying solo, Laura has clocked up 1850 hours of unique and diverse time in the air over the vast expanse of South and Western Australia, including aerial baiting, parachute jump piloting, scenic flying, transporting workers in and out of remote work locations (Fly In Fly Out – FIFO), and has sat at the controls of more than 15 aircraft types. Yet, I get a strong sense that Laura’s career to date, despite its depth and variety, is just the beginning of bigger adventures. I spoke with Laura to discover how she became involved in aviation, and what life at altitude has been like so far.
Was there an ‘aha moment’ when you decided flying was for you?
It didn’t happen like that for me, possibly because aviation has been a staple of my life since day one. My Dad was a private pilot and Licensed Aircraft Maintenance Engineer (LAME) with his own business (Merimbula Aircraft Maintenance), and I spent many hours with him in the aircraft hangar – it felt like home.
Flying and being around aeroplanes became the norm, so at 16 years old learning to fly felt like an obvious next step.
My parents had other ideas and wanted my sister and I to complete university educations before we committed to flying. So that’s what I did.
However, in my penultimate year of University in Wollongong I was living under the flight path of the city’s local airport, longing to fly the planes cruising overhead. I had to give flying a shot.
As soon as my Dad realised I had my heart set on flying, he introduced me to an instructor friend of his, and the rest is history.
What was your route into flying?
Dad’s instructor friend is a lovely man called Robert, a highly talented and experienced pilot who took to instructing in his Jabiru J120C during retirement.
My hometown, Merimbula NSW, was the perfect place to learn – a peaceful little place by the sea with only a few thousand people. This made for quiet airspace which meant there was plenty of time and room to really learn.
I never intended to fly professionally but soon moved on from gaining my Recreational Pilots License (RPL) to study for my Private Pilot License, and then my Commercial Pilot License (CPL).
This move from seeing flying as a hobby to a fully-fledged career was, in part, ignited by a conversation over a post-flight cup of tea with Robert, my instructor. He shared his view that I should pursue flying as a career. To be told so directly by my instructor that he could see true potential in my ability gave me massive motivation to take flying to the next level.
I’m not sure if Rob knows how much of an impact his words had on me, but he will now! I owe a lot to him for having that faith in me and my ability.
When did you first go solo? What was the aircraft, and what did it feel like?
It was a surreal moment! At the end of a lesson with Rob in his little Jabiru J120C he told me to pull to the side of the runway, promptly opened the door, hopped out with the engine still running and told me to go solo!
I was beyond nervous as I taxied for take-off, but taking off alone was so exhilarating that I forgot the nerves. Having the extra climb performance without the additional weight of another person in the aircraft was the biggest surprise! I couldn’t stop smiling. The nerves flooded back in as I turned onto final approach – this was all on me! Of course, after landing, taxiing in and shutting down, and realising what I’d just done gave me the best feeling of exhilaration!
What was the most challenging part of becoming a pilot?
Number one is the sheer amount of study and exams that are involved in becoming a pilot. Once I got my PPL, I thought CPL was totally unreachable with the seven exams, but here I am… and now I’m nearly finished with my ATPLs as well! It’s a matter of chipping away at them and utilising all the help you can get.
The second challenge has been managing my self-confidence. It’s extremely easy to compare yourself to others, whether it’s your flying ability, training progress – even flying hours. I’ve learned that these comparisons are a waste of energy and doesn’t help confidence. It’s about keeping focused on your own flight path – and it helps to have a support network of friends and family who tell you to keep going.
Can you give an overview of your flying career so far, including the planes you’ve flown?
After graduating University I worked for my Dad’s aircraft maintenance business while I continued flight training. I would operate aircraft ferry flights back and forth to the hangar for maintenance, therefore I was exposed to a lot of different aircraft types and flew a variety of planes including different models of Jabiru, Foxbats, a Skyfox Gazelle, Tecnam, Beech Musketeer & Sundowner, Cessna 150/152/172/172XP/182, Piper Archer… and that was all before my CPL, which I did in my Dad’s Piper Cherokee Six. The agreement was that I could fly it as long as I paid for all my own fuel, fees and gave it the occasional bath.
While I worked for Dad, we also hosted a few aviation maintenance days for women and female pilots. My Dad is a huge believer in equality and was the one who suggested we host women’s days for aircraft maintenance so that women could have an opportunity to learn more about the aircraft they were flying, and ask maintenance questions without fear of judgement or ridicule.
My first real job as a commercial pilot was at Wrightsair in William Creek, a very tiny and extremely remote town in Outback South Australia. I flew a range of aircraft, primarily the Cessna 210 and 206 models, but also the 172, 182RG, 207, and Airvans. I operated scenic flights around Lake Eyre, and then moved to the Flinders Ranges base as Senior Base Pilot to do scenic flights around the mountain ranges in the region. This base had a 650m dirt strip of which about 600m was usable – one of my favourite strips ever flown). I felt like pinching myself. Was I really being paid to see this beautiful land by air?
I then moved on to do more charter and aerial work for Wrightsair. My flying time was spent doing aerial baiting, aerial animal tracking, aerial photography, private/business/tour charters, and so on. I was also lucky enough to pilot Julia Bradbury (see headline image) and her TV crew while she filmed the series “Australia with Julia Bradbury”.
I had started my days at William Creek in August 2017 with 270 hours and left in October 2018 with over 1000 hours. I cherish every moment I spent with Wrightsair.
Earlier in 2018, through AWPA (Australian Women Pilots Association) I had applied for the Edna Grose 2000 Scholarship, which I was so fortunate to receive. With this scholarship, I was able to obtain my gas turbine endorsement (GTE) in the Cessna C208 Caravan. Funnily enough I did this endorsement in Wollongong, flying over where I used to live during University when I would watch the same planes doing skydive runs overhead, longing to be flying one.
During the summers of 2018/2019 I flew the C208 and C206 for a dropzone in Moruya NSW, a few hours north of Merimbula (my hometown), flying skydive operations nearly every day and racking up over 250 hours of Caravan time in a matter of months. I too loved skydiving but flight training continued to call though, and during my six month stint as a jump pilot, I started tackling things like my multi-engine instrument rating (Piper Seneca and Beech Duchess) and ATPL subjects.
I currently work for Aviair in Broome Western Australia, where I primarily fly FIFO runs between Broome and a small island called Koolan Island. FIFO means ‘Fly In Fly Out’ and involves flying people in and out of remote locations for work, when they don’t live there. The landing strip at Koolan Island is only about 870m long (that’s short for a runway!) so it’s a great (and fun) challenge to use Short Take-off & Landing (STOL) Cessna Caravans, paying particular attention to take-off weights, wind direction and strength, plus other conditions that might affect how much runway we have.
What are your flying goals for the future?
A huge career ambition is to fly for the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS). I love the idea of giving back to the community and doing something helpful or useful, while flying in all sorts of different environments and dynamic situations.
I’m looking forward to a future of being involved with more aeroclubs, fly-ins, and flying competitions.
My next personal aviation goal is to complete an aerobatic rating and eventually compete. I’ve only ever had one introductory aerobatic lesson pre-PPL but I’m completely hooked. I’d also love to gain more tailwheel experience too.
In general I love hands-on flying, and want to get involved in anything that will improve my ability as a pilot,
I also want to do what I can to give back to the aviation community, and continue encouraging young men and women to pursue flying, even as a hobby. I might look into instructing a bit later on in life when I feel like I have enough experience to pass on to someone else, and I’d love to be able to re-start things like the women’s aircraft maintenance days that Dad and I did while I was working for him.
What advice would you give to anyone aspiring to be a pilot?
The aviation community is small, so treat everyone as you would like to be treated; say yes to everything (within reason) and take opportunities when they’re presented to you. Persevere through the hard stuff and relish the fun stuff; and always make sure to learn something from everyone you meet – never stop learning. Never think that you know it all because that’s when complacency sets in.
What do you think makes a good pilot?
I believe that a good pilot should be humble, practice good common sense, learn from mistakes and always seek to know and learn more. And always, always respect your aeroplane. It might sound odd but I always thank my plane after a flight, or give it a pat on the nose after a particularly long day.
What’s the best thing about your job?
The best thing is just having so many opportunities to explore and see the country from above. I get to see places on a regular basis that others may only ever see once in their life time. I meet so many amazing people and hear incredible stories – that’s a great highlight. At the moment, living in Broome, Western Australia is pretty amazing too – a lot of people visit this town as a bucket-list item, and I get to live here in paradise.
Quick turnaround questions
Take-off or landing?
Landing – I love the challenge of trying to make it as perfect as possible.
Dream airport as a pilot?
I’d love to fly into somewhere like Queenstown, New Zealand, Lord Howe Island, Queensland, or anywhere else that offers a bit of a challenge or has a beautiful approach! I love the idea of bush flying too, and am in awe of pilots who can land on small patches of grass to the side of a hill – I’d love to be able to do that kind of thing someday.
Favourite place for a holiday?
I love visiting Tasmania, where I was born and where my Dad’s side of the family is from. Amazing scenery, food, wine, and national parks.
Favourite aircraft of all-time?
For flying, I do have a soft spot (and a lot of respect) for the old Cessna 210 since I had so many experiences flying it around the Outback. But I also love anything unique, different or vintage – I’ve loved the F1 Rocket ever since my tailwheel instructor in Temora New South Wales took me up in his for some sunset aerobatics. I also love machines like the Catalina, or weird planes like the Transavia Airtruk or Rutan Boomerang. I love a lot of aircraft!
What would you be if you weren’t a pilot?
I used to always want to work in foreign affairs (which is in line with my undergraduate degrees), but I also ended up completing my Master in Aviation Management so I’d probably be interested in the management/legislation/policy side of aviation. Otherwise, my other big love is dogs – so maybe I’d run a dog rescue of some sort!
The best thing about flying is…
As cliche as it sounds, it really is the freedom of it all. When I fly, I feel calm. It’s like a kind of mindfulness. You may still be stressing over some upcoming weather or similar, but nothing else matters. Flying the plane is all you have to worry about, all the other problems in the world melt away while you’re up above it all. I love that.