From his office 10,000m above the ground, Virgin Australia pilot Dan Lang surveys a career that is literally and figuratively flying.
Becoming a pilot was Dan’s dream from boyhood when he and his family made the long-haul flights from Australia to visit loved ones across the world.
The journey from enthusiastic youngster to an aviation degree from Griffith University and now to a commercial flying career has taken years of dedication and diverse experience. And there are still a few more air miles to log as Dan prepares to transfer from the co-pilot’s seat on the right of the Virgin cockpit to the captain’s seat on the left.
Dan’s family emigrated from Switzerland to Sydney in 1988 and international flights became a part of life.
“I loved flying from the start and that has never changed,” says Dan, 34, who is based in South East Queensland where he lives with dietitian wife Michelle and their two children.
“I joined the Air Training Corps in high school and that led me into gliding, which only increased my determination to pursue an aviation career.”
Starting a Bachelor of Aviation (Technology) at Griffith University in 2000, the degree was a good fit for one already interested in electronics and aided by a father who was an electrician.
When Dan’s aptitude enabled the early completion of the flying component of his degree, he decided to seek employment and finish his studies externally.
Scenic flights, skydiving charters and Outback transfers
“In February 2002, I packed up my Holden Astra and drove up the east coast of Queensland, dropping off resumes along the way,” recalls Dan. “Out of that the Maryborough Aero Club took me on as a charter pilot leading scenic flights in a Cessna 172.
“To drum up business, the boss and I would set up a marquee on the roadside and advertise the flights. In the first four months I only flew about 90 hours in total. I supplemented my income by detailing cars.”
However, hour by hour and air mile by air mile, Dan completed the tasks needed to advance to bigger aircraft.
This included flying skydiving charters out of Townsville, a move back to Brisbane for more licence-specific training, before the opportunity came in September 2003 to join Northern Air Charters in Australia’s Top End.
“We were based in Timber Creek, which is about two and a half hours east of the Northern Territory/WA border,” says Dan. “It sounds very Crocodile Dundee-like. My job was flying charters in a Cessna 210, everything from transporting kids to school to transferring local Aboriginal workers between camps.
“After that I joined Savannah Aviation in the Gulf, flying miners in and out. Next I was back in Brisbane flying blood bags and bank bags.”
With all this experience behind him, Dan applied to Virgin and joined the airline in February 2008. Today he flies the Australian domestic routes as well as to destinations in the South Pacific, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.
Away from flying, Dan is a talented athlete. Always a keen cyclist, he took up distance running in 2012. Last month he was one of the first Team Griffith members to cross the finish line in the Gold Coast Airport Marathon.
“Those long hours in the co-pilot’s seat have a physical impact and so the running really helps me with my core strength, stamina and my mental control,” says Dan.
Now focused on his captain’s training, Dan hopes to take command of a Virgin 737 sometime next year.
“All those steps along the way make you appreciate where you’ve been and where you’re heading,” says Dan
“The more steps you’re prepared to take, the further you can go.”