An army helicopter flight three decades ago led Lance Conley to dream of becoming a pilot and ultimately establish one of the Kimberley's largest aviation companies.

Story By Nathan Dyer

The sound of Lance Conley’s Air Tractor splits the calm of the clear Kimberley morning. The yellow plane roars out of its hangar, swings onto a dirt airstrip and is gone in a flash. Minutes later, the crop duster is swooping just metres from the ground, its spray boom pumping herbicide over a weedy paddock. With each pass, Lance lifts the nose of the plane, dips the tip of the right wing and wheels back overhead in a long smooth arc to start another run. To the uninformed it looks as if he might be training for an upcoming airshow, but for Lance, a crop duster pilot with 20 years’ experience, it’s just another day at the office.
A few hours later, back at Lone Eagle Aviation’s Kununurra hangar, Lance clearly remembers the moment when, as a young boy, he knew he would become a pilot. He was living on his grandfather’s Dooloogarah Station in Queensland’s Carnarvon Ranges with his mother and four younger siblings, having moved from Charleville a few years earlier. The army had been performing training exercises on the isolated property for weeks. “It was my 10th birthday and the army boys decided to take me for a fly in a helicopter,” Lance says with a grin. “Ever since that day, right or wrong, I was going to be a helicopter pilot when I grew up.” Soon after his 16th birthday Lance headed for Maroochydore and started his training.
Two years later Lance was off to the Kimberley after landing a job with local legend Kerry Slingsby, which had him mustering cattle in Bell 47s across the Kimberley and the Northern Territory. “It was a massive adventure for me, and I was keen as mustard,” he says. That first job led to a short stint flying helicopters in Papua New Guinea and mustering in Queensland, before a return to the Kimberley to take up the chief pilot role with Kununurra aviation company Heliwork. After three years with Heliwork, Lance had the opportunity to purchase the company’s agricultural spraying asset – a single spray-equipped Bell 47 helicopter. It was the beginning of Lone Eagle Aviation.

This Story is from Issue #87

Outback Magazine: Feb/Mar 2013