On Top of the World: Flying a Light Aircraft Over Sydney Harbour

Adventure rating 5

Sydney Harbour. One of the most recognisable locations on Earth. The Opera House and the famous Harbour Bridge are world-famous, and you can’t walk a step along Circular Quay without bumping into someone trying to get the perfect bridge shot, or the most epic selfie with the Opera House in the background.

But have you ever wondered what it would be like to soar way above the harbour, to capture these show-stopping landmarks from above? I recently took to the co-pilot’s seat in a two seater light aircraft to do just that, thanks to probably the most epic 30th birthday present imaginable from my boyfriend Alex (thanks, Al!).

When I first heard I would be flying a plane over Sydney Harbour, I have to admit I was more than a bit terrified. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would I be actually taking the controls? Would I need to take off and land a plane? I actually had a terrible nightmare ahead of the experience involving my brother being the pilot and us having a monumental crash.


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Flying a Plane over Sydney Harbour

So what’s it actually like to fly a plane over Sydney Harbour?

To sum it up in one word? Monumental.

flying plane selfie

I would go so far as to say it was actually one of the greatest experiences of my life. At one point I even turned to the pilot with a huge grin on my face and told her it was one of the best days I’ve ever had. Might’ve even had a little cry too.

It all started at Sydney Flight College in Bankstown, around an hour from the city centre by car. Fresh from my night of restlessness, worrying about all the things that could go wrong, I arrived a bag of nerves and was introduced to my pilot, a 22 year old woman with a passion for all things aviation.

Admittedly, being in the hands of a 22 year old was a little scary at first but as soon as we started the pre-flight checks, I knew I was in great hands. Coming from a family of pilots and airline employees, her professionalism was unwavering as she explained our expected flight path and showed me the basics of piloting a light aircraft.

sydney flying experience

The Piper Warrior light aircraft we flew in

The Piper Warrior light aircraft we flew in

Climb aboard!

Climb aboard!

After belting up and getting clearance for take-off, we were on our way, flying directly north towards Parramatta, a skyscraper-lined suburb in Sydney’s west. Contrary to my earlier fears, I wasn’t expected to take the controls for take off…. Of course not! What was I thinking?

Taking off was predictably shaky inside the tiny two-person interior. I felt my stomach churn a few times as turbulence dropped us several metres at a time, or pushed one side of the aircraft a little lower than the other.

Pretty soon we banked right and were flying towards Sydney’s northern beaches.

approaching the north shore sydney

The pilot then turned to me and asked the dreaded question: “Do you want to take the controls?”

Actually I was rather enjoying myself being a spectator, but how many times in your life do you get to fly a plane? So rather shakily, I placed my hands on the steering wheel and, feeling like I was playing an arcade game (with VERY REAL CONSEQUENCES), took complete control of the plane.

Getting acquainted with the controls

Getting acquainted with the controls

As we bumped along the sky above one of the greatest cities in the world, I got an incredible rush of adrenaline which pretty much sent me loopy. Each time the plane dropped a little, I was whooping like a crazy person. Good job the plane was dual control, as after about 30 seconds I was absolutely shitting myself and was ready to go back to being a spectator!

Narrabeen Beach from above

Narrabeen Beach

My first incredible view was the 3.6km sweep of perfect Narrabeen Beach, on Sydney’s North Shore. It was a warm October day, yet the sands were nearly empty of people. One of the great things about Sydney is just how many choices you have to get your tan on, and how some beaches are always beautifully quiet.

After circling here for a while awaiting clearance to head into the city’s airspace (they don’t always grant it, as the harbour is on a direct commercial airline route, and you don’t want to mess with those big bastards, let me tell ya!), I had time to admire all of the northern beaches including Manly, one of my faves.

Manly Beach

Manly Beach

Finally our request for clearance came, and we were allowed into the harbour! At over 55km², it’s one of the biggest natural harbours in the world, and truly a beauty to behold from above.

sydney harbour from above

Flying into the harbour. Oh to have one of those yachts!

Then the moment finally came. I could only look out the window in wonder as my pilot took me on two perfect loops above Sydney’s Opera House and Harbour Bridge. I was close enough to count the people climbing the bridge!

opera house and harbour bridge aerial view

sydney harbour bridge aerial view

sydney harbour from plane

With my adrenaline pumping on overdrive, we headed north again and retraced our steps back to Bankstown. What an incredible present, and and an utterly unforgettable day!

To book your flight, go to sfcaero.com.au and look for the one hour Sydney Scenic Training Flight.


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Hayley is the author behind A Life of More, a travel and lifestyle blog with the goal of helping you to live a happier and more fulfilled life, whether you're currently travelling or happily settled.

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