There she sat - the 12-year-old winner of the Qantas stamp competition - proud as punch, up beside the pilot, touching the control panel and looking out on to the expanse of blue sky, while down below, the world in miniature, went about its business.
In the back seat was 10-year-old Sharelle Quinn, who, overcome with envy, could think of nothing more than her desire to sit in the cockpit.
Quinn had come second in the competition - her only mistake being that she'd misspelt Qantas - with a U. The prize was a flight in a light plane to Bankstown airport and as runner-up Quinn was a passenger - doing not much else than staring out the window and watching the winner have all the fun.
That day fuelled a drive and determination that neither time nor circumstance dimmed.
"I was in the back seat . . . the back seat," says Quinn laughing. "Just the horror of coming second and being in the back was too much for me. It's just the way I am. I enjoyed that flight so much that as I was growing up I would look up and watch aeroplanes go by or watch the birds fly. It never once crossed my mind that I was never not going to learn to fly one day."
Quinn's diminutive frame houses a larger than life character. Funny, witty and with a no-nonsense approach to life that comes with more than 20 years as an airline captain.
"I have some issues returning to real life," she admits. "I can't understand why people don't have checklists. If builders had checklists for example they wouldn't make nearly so many mistakes."
No doubt the world would run a lot smoother Captain Quinn style - but getting the rest of her family to agree is her biggest challenge.
"I look at my watch and I can see it's time for my 13-year-old son to go to bed. So I say 'Time for bed James', but he won't go," she says, mock-horror on her face. "And he refuses to say 'Yes captain' when I ask him to do something. I don't understand it."
She's joking of course, but not of her difficulties adjusting to the real world outside of the cockpit where she's always in command.
"It's very hard for me," she says. "As captain you have a checklist and you do it every time. You never go off memory. You look down - you check. You don't question it because it's for the greater good. Qantas is extremely strict and there's good reason for it. In my profession things are done a certain way and people do what they're told. So when I come back to the real world I have issues. I have to step back and learn that people aren't so regimented. It's a bit of a shock."
Quinn was 32 when she became the first female captain for Qantas in 1992 - at the time there were only 18 female pilots out of 900. Quinn and another woman were the first female pilots at the airline having joined eight years before. Earlier this year, on a recent flight to Honolulu, Quinn found herself in command of two other female pilots in the cockpit.
"That's the first time that's ever happened in my career," says Quinn. "I took a photograph of the three of us because it was so unusual."
While women have made inroads into other male bastions such as medicine and engineering, female commercial pilots are still very much the minority.
That's one of the reasons Quinn has agreed to be interviewed for Weekender - she wants more women to consider flying as a career.
"I have no idea why there aren't more female pilots. Maybe it's too expensive or women think it's too difficult. But my advice would be to stick to your dreams. Never give up."
After high school she trod the traditional road to university - but half way through her degree that childhood yearning to fly returned with a vengeance.
With no money and her parents sceptical - Quinn finished her tertiary education and then began the long and expensive path to becoming a pilot.
Although only 21 she was told she was too old to begin flying lessons by an 18-year-old who already had 3000 hours of flying under his belt. Though intimidated Quinn rose to the challenge, realising she didn't need to do things like everyone else.
"Some people learn to fly because they want to be an airline pilot," says Quinn. "For me it was different. I wanted to fly because I loved it."
She became a scavenger for part-time work. Even saving 20¢ pieces so she could buy the $70-worth of textbooks she needed to start her off on her journey. She worked in a range of jobs including in a traffic light-making factory and another job putting together pink hair clips.
"There were piles of pink clips. I'd live for the change of colour," she says moaning as she recalls the monotony of factory life.
But Quinn persisted, scrimping and saving. Each hour of flying cost her $50. In the early 80s it could cost more than $20,000 to learn to fly and become an instructor - a small fortune. Today that figure is more than $100,000, with each hour in the air costing around $300.
At the time her parents believed flying lessons were frivolous and a waste of money.
"There was never any surplus money in our family," says Quinn. "My parents were ordinary people and just couldn't see the point of learning to fly. What would I do with it?"
So she kept her plans to herself, hiding her textbooks under her bed and keeping her flying lessons secret.
"In the beginning, when you're starting out, the cost is debilitating," she says. "I was so excited to have that first textbook. I remember taking it out and setting it up on my little pull-out desk. It was Basic Aeronautical Knowledge. I remember the first page. There's a picture of an aeroplane with the controls surface and I remember thinking 'OK - here we go'. I sucked it all in."
She started her theory lessons at TAFE doing both the day and evening courses at the same time - 4 ½ days a week. At night she would work in a bakery from 10pm till 6am and then rush home for two hours sleep before her mother would wake her up so she could do it all over again. When she finally passed her pilot's exam and managed to pay for the required hours of flying she took her mother for a flight.
"She was so surprised," says Quinn. "She had no idea that I'd been having lessons."
Much later, when she passed her instructor's licence, members of the flight school lined up and presented her with a pair of socks.
"I was still wearing my old school socks," she says.
She then landed her first real job as an instructor - an eight-week position at a dirt airstrip at Gove in the Northern Territory.
Living in a small caravan at the edge of the airstrip and in charge of three aeroplanes, she battled the red dirt, the 40 degree heat in the middle of the wet season and an old Kingswood that came with the position.
"I would drive that Kingswood 20 minutes into Nhulunbuy just so that I could cool down in the cold food section of the supermarket," she says. "That was my outing. I couldn't afford to do anything else. I lived on boiled rice and canned mince."
She describes the planes as "workhorses" and she flew doctors into Aboriginal communities and then took Aborigines into town to shop.
"They'd get on board and I'd say 'What's in the bag?' and sure enough it would be a snake or a turtle," she says. "Well I'd let the turtles on but I drew the line at any snakes."
Another one of her jobs would be to confiscate bottles of alcohol as passengers would try to smuggle it into the dry settlements. She was 22 years old.
"Alcohol was banned and if you let it into the settlements you could lose your charter's licence," she says. "I'd hear this rattle as they came on board and I'd have them open their bags and sure enough there would be 30 bottles of rum in it."
She says all the passengers respected her authority.
For Quinn it was her first experience away from home.
"All junior pilots do their time," she says. "I flew in thunderstorms and landed on narrow dirt strips. It's just the nature of the job."
In 1984, at the age of 24, she saw a job advertisement for a Qantas pilot.
"When I read all of the qualifications I realised I had them all," says Quinn. "Dad said: 'They won't take you, you're a girl'. He was actually throwing down the gauntlet. But it never entered my mind that they might not take me because I was a girl. I wasn't aware until after I got the job that there were no other female pilots at Qantas."
At the time she says she was asked by the press what it was like being the only female on the flight deck.
"It wasn't a problem for me. It was normal for me to be surrounded by males doing their job. It was the males who had to adapt to me. I was the difference. But as soon as you could prove you were good enough to be there they welcomed you."
When Quinn became the first female captain at Qantas - in command of a Boeing 767 - so rare was it, that her promotion became an international human interest story.
As a result she received congratulatory letters and cards from all over the world - some accompanied with the odd marriage proposal from strangers.
Quinn looked so young that as she walked down the aisle to greet passengers with the familiar - 'Welcome aboard flight 424' she says some passengers would gasp and others looked to the ceiling.
"I've had people say 'I'm not flying if there's a woman flying this plane', and others who will ask: 'How old are you Captain and how long have you been flying?' I always say: 'What time have you got?' You can't take it seriously. I've got such a great job, who cares what anybody else thinks."
Quinn lives at Scarborough with her husband Wayne, a former Qantas worker, and son in a cottage perched on top of a cliff with stunning views of the Illawarra coastline.
In the early years of her career she would spend long stretches away from home, but after her son was born she decided to fly predominantly the east coast of Australia. It means she can be home on weekends to manage her son's soccer team and to take him to piano lessons.
"It's true that your choices are limited later on, but you do it happily. I love to fly, but I love being with my family more."