Flyabout, One Movie, Two Perspectives

By Robert Mark on November 1st, 2010

Editor Notes: Being based in the Midwest, Chicago in particular, makes the name Siskel and Ebert and the Movies legendary when it comes to chatter about film. While neither Scott nor I are will even attempt to compare ourselves to that dynamic celluloid duo, we still need a little fun now and again with the movies we do watch.We are both still attempting to figure out which of us is the Siskel and which the Ebert of this team.

Here you have the first – and what I hope will not be the last – of Jetwhine’s film review section. We both met filmmaker Monika Petrillo at Oshkosh and were captivated with her flying adventures around Australia and her relentless ambition to chronicle the event.

In all honesty, I did not read Scott’s review before I dropped it into the blog software nor he mine. So here goes. Scott’s up first.



At EAA AirVenture 2010 Rob and I met Monika Petrillo, who captured her family’s counter-clockwise aerial tour of the Australian continent in Flyabout. We missed the film’s well attended showings at OSH, but those who attended offered positive reviews with various viewpoints.  How we see aviation depends, in large part, on our individual aeronautical upbringing.

To see what we missed, Monika sent us DVDs (which sell for $19.95), and we’re trying something new, a post with individual looks at a common subject. And if you’re attending AOPA Aviation Summit in Long Beach, Monika and Flyabout will be there on Friday, November 12, 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM, Women’s Wing, Booth 217.

Flyabout: A Pilot’s Reflective, Metaphysical Journey

On the surface, this 74-minute film is about the 30-day, 70-flight-hour  GOANA Air Safari around Australia, and it will not disappoint those seeking a vicarious escape in this adventure. But Australia, aka Oz, is but a  stage on which the low-time aviator, pilot in command of one of the tour’s five planes, realizes and shares her unflinchingly honest revelations about pilot and family dynamics.

In the film Monika said Australia offered aviation opportunities not available in the United States. But that’s not really true. The outback adventure sharpened her awareness because it was new, different from the rigid ATC environment and congested skies over the LA Basin, where she learned to fly and logged 140 hours before heading down under. 

Similar uncontrolled adventures are easily found in the United States if pilots put metropolitan areas on their six. What’s harder to find is an organized tour that calms anxious unknowns with planning, prior arrangements, and someone to lead the adventure.

The same is now true for flyabouts. The Great Outback Air Navigation Adventure (GOANA) ceased operation in 2006 when legislation, the Enhanced Aviation Security Package for Australia’s homeland security, more than doubled GA’s bureaucratic and financial requirements.

Flyabout’s supreme value for all aviators, regardless of their experience, is Monika’s voiceover articulation of the fears, uncertainty, and anxiety that silently echoes between their ears when facing new situations, whether it be dodgy weather, dirt strips, or being the young, low-time, and the only female pilot in a group of veteran aviators. She provides emotional succor to all who fear they alone fall short of some imagined hero pilot standard. 

What makes this realization poignant is Monika’s reason for joining the tour with her stepmom, dad, and younger brother: to rest, relax, and refocus her tacitly uncertain and stressful LA life through an aerial  walkabout, a backcountry wandering in which Australia’s aboriginal people return to the simple essentials of life. 

About halfway through the trip, at the Mount Hart Station, she realizes that flying around Australia in a Cessna full of family is not conducive to relaxation and self-realization. But considering the mind of the average pilot, which equates challenge with fun, it makes perfect sense. Like many pilots, Monika looks forward with past regrets, worrying that at 82 she’ll look back and not see the life she wanted to live.

Departing from Brisbane on Australia’s eastern shore north of Sydney, Monika’s copilot was her father. A new pilot, he had learned to fly in LA over a long vacation, sleeping on Monika’s  couch, before going home to  Germany. With little practice since earning his certificate the previous year, dad’s landings unnerved Monika, already anxious about her responsibilities as pilot in command. The ensuing conflict eased when he started flying with the tour’s guide, but father and daughter never resolved it during the film.

Monika, the producer, director, and editor, weaves this thread of reality into the film’s rich, expertly crafted tapestry. The  conflict complements and sharpens the simple joys of just looking out the window at a sun dog surrounding the Cessna’s shadow as it races over a layer of clouds or the unexpected sight of a migrating mother whale and her calf. A personal project that took nearly eight years to complete, the film’s subtle soundtrack, which ranges from piano to didgeridoo, enriches the images.

Ultimately, Flyabout is about perspective and awareness, whether it is looking inward or out the window. During her adventure Monika distills this to a single sentence: “The difference between an ordeal and an adventure is your attitude.” And in that is a lesson for all.  –Scott Spangler

      • ***

By Rob Mark — When the review copy of Flyabout arrived at my desk, the title did little to encourage me to watch this 74 min. production from pilot and filmmaker Monika Petrillo. On the outside, it looked like just another nice little travel documentary about a trip around Australia. I learned quickly that I was beyond condescending in my initial reactions.

Flyabout – a take off on the Aboriginal phrase walkabout in which people disappear into the wilderness for weeks on end in order to reconnect with the land and their spiritual selves – represents two very distinct and fascinating journeys for the filmmaker. m2

The first, of course, is that of a group of 10 people sharing the cockpits of five single-engine aircraft circumnavigating the continent in 30 days. The second story is that of a young woman traveling to capture the essence of the trip on film and only near the end realizing that flying has taken her on a walkabout of her own life.

The footage was shot 12 years ago when Petrillo decided – at 20 – that she did not want to reach old age without having checked “learning to fly” off her bucket list. In a phone conversation with her father living in Germany, he too became enamored to learn to fly and did so in a month of sleeping on the couch in his daughter’s LA apartment.

When the flyabout began in 1998, Monika had logged 140 hours and her father considerably less, placing each squarely in the category of pilots to which a trek around a foreign land by air would represent some serious operational challenges. “I thought flying around Australia would be the most exciting trip ever with daddy,” Petrillo said. “But I knew too that we’d be flying around unfamiliar terrain in all kinds of weather and with my family aboard.”

Only during the flight would Monika learn that one of the most persistent challenges was flying with her father as co-pilot, a man she admits “knew everything,” and being forced to realize that early on some of the flying was out of his league and even barely in hers as well. Putting these two people in the cockpit was a recipe for family conflict and brought on the first screaming match she and her father had ever had.

m1 During one of the stopovers, between gorgeous scenes of Australian fauna and flora, Petrillo watches some nearby Aborigines. “I wanted to talk them while they were only a few feet away, but it seemed like there was a wall between us.” Viewers will realize she’s talking about the relationship she’s trying to repair with her father even if the filmmaker did not yet. Fascinating individual and group lessons about why people work well – or don’t – and flying continue on easily during the entire film.

One of the film’s delights is listening to Monika tell us what was passing through her mind at every point in the journey, especially valuable during a few frightening moments like when she and her father flew into “complete nothingness” weather that, as an instructor, made me sweat. Or when the trip was be-calmed in a few days of solid downpours, or when she was forced to hand prop the 172 after part of the electrical system failed. A bed and breakfast motel at the dirt strip, Mount Hart, run by a character called Taffy, adds to this rich tale in which seemingly small experiences teach Monika and viewers so much.

Flyabout represents a family of strangers drawn together by their love of flying, as well as their love of life, challenges that demand continuous learning until that final flight. The photography in Flyabout is professional and easily blended with the personal shots that make anyone feel part of this hastily concocted flying family. The story is captivating, and as the other passengers learned, the ride is worth the occasional ups and downs.

Visit to purchase a copy, a perfect gift for the pilot just itching for a little adventure.

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2 Responses to “Flyabout, One Movie, Two Perspectives”

  1. Airmail Magazine Says:

    I have to say, it’s an awesome documentary film! I recommend this film very highly!

  2. Jamie Dodson, Lane Tech HS Alumni Says:

    Rob, I loved the video! I spent a few days with Monika at AirVenture 2010. We exchanged our wears, she gave me a copy of FLYABOUT and I gave her a copies of my two Pan Am novels. If you get the chance to attend a showing where she hosts, take it. Her anecdotes, some left on the cutting room floor, add another dimension.

    Monika is a film making professional and it shows in her production standards. I’m glad that she waited to tell the story because it give a much better prospective – one that comes with experience. Since I’ve added learning to fly to my bucket list, along with a long standing desire to visit Down Under, the video truly spoke to me.

    Cheers! Jamie

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