Fran West is an Australian pilot, adventurer, photographer, author and speaker who decides on a goal and then quietly sets about achieving it.
As a pilot holding a general aviation licence, Fran not only has endorsements for a variety of aircraft but with her USA pilot's license she also holds a seaplane rating gained in Seattle, USA.
This fascination for planes landing on water led Fran to discover a set of videos about a flight made with three amphibian seaplanes in 1978. The flight was called Pelican's Progress, with a television series of the same name and a book published as Australia: the greatest island.
So, after viewing the videos over the years and reading the book about the flight, Fran decided to have a radical life change, give up her career and fly around Australia's coast in 1999.
Oz Flight '99
A marathon flight around the coast of Australia (mainland and Tasmania) to commemorate the 21st anniversary of Pelican's Progress, recording the flight with photographs, and to promote Soroptimist International (a women's service organisation).
Fran flew about 27,000 kilometres (equivalent to over half way around the world).
Her flight path was anti-clockwise around the coast, mostly flying over the ocean within gliding distance of land at heights of 1,000 to 1,500 feet (300 to 500 metres).
She landed on 90 different airstrips: 75 for the mainland and 15 for Tasmania, including landings on Phillip Island (Victoria), Horn, Sweers and Mornington Islands (Queensland), and Flinders, Cape Barren and Bruny Islands (Tasmania).
The 145 hours flying time included detours inland to Lawn Hill National Park (Queensland), Newman, Karijini National Park, Windjana Gorge, Geikie Gorge, the Bungles, Argyle Diamond Mine, Halls Creek, Wolfe Creek Crater and Kalbarri National Park (Western Australia) and Cradle Mountain (Tasmania).
As with most adventures, there were testing times that brought an adrenalin rush. Like flying through smoke haze from the burn off season in the Northern Territory, being forced lower towards the ocean to dodge heavy rain showers, and turning back because of strong turbulence buffeting the plane about the sky.
It was 7 years dreaming, 2 years planning, 3 months adventuring.
In other words: dream it, plan it, do it!
Sea, Sky and Sand: a flight around South Australia's Coast and Outback, September 2002
A flight to celebrate the Year of the Outback and the 200th anniversary of Matthew Flinders' and Nicolas Baudin's sea voyages. It was also to raise funds for the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
The flight encompassed the South East of the state, the Flinders and Gammon Ranges, Eyre and Yorke Peninsulas and Kangaroo Island. As usual, Fran had to land somewhere different, like the racecourse airstrip at Blinman, somewhere challenging, like the side sloping airstrip on Boston Island (after chasing off sheep), and somewhere creative, like landing amidst the ranges at Arkaroola.
This shorter adventure of 35 flying hours put into practice the lessons learnt from the first marathon flight.
- The first woman pilot to circumnavigate mainland Australia in a light aircraft.
- The first woman pilot to circumnavigate Australia (mainland and Tasmania) in a light aircraft.
"Fran flies into history."
Spirit of Adventure Award
From Australian Geographic Magazine
For an "inspirational circumnavigation of Australia in a Cessna 172", recognising a flight that was unassisted by a team.
Photo of Fran West with Dick Smith at the Australian Geographic
"Pilot Fran lands adventure award."
"An aerial odyssey."
Lores Bonney Trophy
The prestigious aviation award donated by Australia's pioneer aviator of the 1930s
This flight embodied the spirit of Lores Bonney's own achievements.
Pat Brookfield, President, Australian Women Pilots'
Civic Achievement Award from the City of Onkaparinga.
Fran is also listed in Who's Who of Australian Women, Who's Who in South Australia and World Who's Who of Women.
Annapurna - Dhaulagiri Trek, Nepal
Celebrating one of life's milestones – trekking in the Himalaya, bareback elephant riding, white water rafting, mountain biking and going on the mountain flight to Everest.
This trek was a challenge more than just a simple reward. Fran's not only afraid of heights, she's also an asthmatic. Her aim was to reach the Holy Lake, with its snow covered shoreline, and return without having an asthma attack or needing to use her inhaler due to the altitude. The hardest physical and mental challenge she has ever had – climbing along steep rocky paths, crossing over bridges, walking through waterfalls, inching her way across slippery landslides and eventually reaching the lake at 4,600 metres. After setting off early in the morning in the dark, the group returned in the twilight eleven hours later with a herd of yaks accompanying it.
Overland Track, Tasmania
Walking from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair – over 80 kilometres, partly to prove car accident injuries weren't going to stop her from continuing to follow her dreams.
More seaplane flying – from Lake Hood, Anchorage, and from Trail Lake, Moose Pass, to experience inlet, low altitude and mountain flying in spectacular yet challenging scenery. Photographing moose plodding through swamp and bears fishing for salmon just capped off the flying.
The Southwest: Arizona, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico
Flying over Lake Powell at sunrise, soaring in a glider near Durango, mule riding in Bryce Canyon and rafting on the Colorado River just whetted the appetite. Then exploring ancient cultures in valleys and deep canyons and walking miles in southern Utah’s superb national parks, and national monuments, prompted the plea “Will someone please switch off the scenery!”
Patagonian Trek, South America
Trekking in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile, and Fitzroy National Park, Argentina, was followed by more trekking, but with crampons, on the Perito Moreno Glacier, horse riding at El Chalten, rafting into and underneath the Iguazu Falls (literally breath taking) and flying in a helicopter over the falls.
Ballooning, flying in a biplane and mixing it with alligators during an air boat ride, were all the adventures there was time for after speaking at the Women in Aviation International Conference in Orlando.
Comments About Fran West
"One of our members described the photography as stunning. Speaking personally I found your accompanying address even surpassed the photographs and the whole presentation entered the realm of the enthralling. The planning of the flight around the entire Australian coastline… can only be described as a feat in the tradition of the old geographical explorers."
Royal Geographical Society of South Australia Inc.
"Your presentation certainly highlighted your spirit of adventure and you outlined some fascinating stories and those pictures of your flight were excellent. You certainly are an inspirational person."
Australian Council for Health, Physical Education and Recreation, (ACHPER SA Branch)
"Your story demonstrates how strength of character and determination can help realise a dream. It is an inspirational story that could well influence young people as they start out on their journey through life."
Probus Club of Hallett Cove Inc.
"I met Fran during the WAI (Women in Aviation International) Conference in Orlando 2010 where I had the opportunity of hearing one of her motivational presentations. I found that not only was she inspiring and entertaining but Fran truly captivated my attention... and the photos of Australia were stunning!! Fran truly motivated the attendees to start to pilot their own lives and navigate their way to success!"
UrbeAero, Rome, Italy
Photo by Les Ludgate
Book Fran now at email@example.com for your next conference, seminar or event.