Over 85 years ago, iconic Australian John Flynn had the vision
to provide the health care
that rural, regional and remote communities need and deserve.
And all this time later, the RFDS is executing that vital work.
Today, we're in Cairns to have a chat
with an RFDS pilot who has a very interesting story.
-G'day, Barry. How are you going?
-Yeah, good, mate. How are you?
-Yeah, really good.
-That's the way.
You've been a Cairns local for a long time, haven't you?
BARRY: Yeah, I like flying around here.
It's a lovely spot. Nice part of the world.
-Rewarding job. What's it like?
-Yeah, no, it's a fantastic job.
It's very challenging. We do work hard as single pilots.
So we don't have the benefits
of a co-pilot sitting next to you helping you out.
You've got to be on your toes, got to be very disciplined.
Things like, you know, use your checklists
and you really need to be ahead of the aeroplane.
And you might be tasked to go to a remote station,
and someone might not have landed on the strip for the last six months,
you know, and it hasn't been mowed or maintained, so you need to work out
all these sorts of things and put it all together,
as well as the patient requirements that you might have.
Like, it could be very urgent
and you need to get yourself sorted quite quickly.
How can property owners help you out in terms of strip preparation or...?
Yeah, we like our strips to be prepared, obviously.
So it does require a bit of work from them
to make sure that their strips are pretty much ready to go 24/7.
An accident can happen in the middle of the night in the bush.
If they've got flares, keep the flares up to date.
If they've got solar lighting,
make sure they're charged and, you know, battery...
..even just a normal battery-powered lighting.
I have called people before and they say, "Yeah, we've got full lights."
They ring you back 10 minutes later and they say, "Only four work."
So make sure that the batteries are changed, you know, regularly.
So what would be your advice
to pilots flying into Cairns for the first time?
Being a controlled zone, they should really put in a flight plan
so air traffic control are anticipating them,
are waiting for them to get here, basically.
Know where you're going, get up high if you can.
Being a mountainous area, it can make it hard for ATC to pick you up
and then clear you into the zones.
They need to get you nicely identified
before they can sort of let you in.
(INDISTINCT RADIO CHATTER)
Now, Barry, you were involved in a horrific situation back in 2001.
I was flying a Cessna Caravan aircraft
for jumping operations down in Victoria.
We had a premature deployment
when the jumpers were exiting the aircraft,
which caused one of the jumpers
to go over the rear elevator of the aircraft
and then got snagged in it.
Ended up tearing the empennage off the aircraft.
Once the tail did come off the rear of the aeroplane,
it was quite difficult to control.
I had no pitch control or anything like that.
All I had left was aileron.
So there were still a couple of jumpers left,
so we managed to keep it straight just using aileron
and waited till the last jumper
exited the aeroplane, and then I knew it was my turn.
But, you know, 'cause I was really struggling to control the aeroplane.
Soon as I let go, I got flung straight down between the two seats
'cause of the G-forces, and the aeroplane started spinning.
And I heard the rear door actually slam and slam shut.
I'd already shut the engine down and feathered the propeller.
The aeroplane was spinning and pulling G's.
PETE: So did you think that was it?
How many times did you try to get this door open?
I was just fighting with the door pretty much once I got to it.
I was trying to get it open because it was coming back down
and shutting again, I could only lift it a little bit.
I managed to get my arm out on the handle on the outside of the door
and grab a rail on the outside and then I could lift myself
and got a bit more purchase, got it down to the elbow,
and then just kept on banging the door
and finally got it to my shoulder where I could just keep banging it
enough to get my head out underneath and squeeze out.
I opened up about 500 feet.
About 2 seconds before the aeroplane hit the ground,
I actually opened up.
I was directly over the aircraft that had just crashed
and then I could actually see the flames coming up at me.
I managed to get out of the way of those and then I've got down safely.
So, Barry, what sort of lessons could be taken from this?
BARRY: Being prepared, understanding the aeroplane that you're flying,
the drop zone that you're at.
What disciplines are jumping out of the aeroplane,
whether it's canopy work, head down,
students, tandems, all these sorts of things.
You need to have the big picture when you're flying.
And it's understanding the sport, understanding your parachute.
I knew my parachute equipment. I knew how to use it.
So I had all these things going for me.
Even though I was stuck in a bad situation,
just managed just in time to put it all together and get out.
PETE: Today, we're flying over to Mareeba,
which is where most of the general aviation
from the Cairns region is now located.
Mareeba is a town on the Atherton Tablelands
to the west of Cairns, just over the ranges.
It's about 70 k's and takes about an hour by car
or 15 minutes by air.
Well, we've just arrived at Mareeba aerodrome
and we've got quite a busy schedule.
We're going to check in with Sally from North Queensland Aero Club.
We are going to have a chat with Paul about some incredible pieces
of aviation history that he has.
And we're also going to check in with Dave.
He's going to tell us about some amazing journeys he's had
right around this big, beautiful country of ours.
PETE: So how long have you been in aviation for?
Been in aviation for about 25 years.
Got into it when I was fairly young, about 15. It's a passion, so...
So what brings you out to Mareeba?
SALLY: The flying school's been based in Cairns for the last 66 years.
However, due to the cost of rent on Cairns Airport
and the volume of traffic that's around Cairns Airport now,
we've decided to move the entire base up to Mareeba.
We've had satellite bases in Mareeba on and off for the last 15 years,
and it's a really great place to fly because it's much drier up here
and there's nowhere near the volume of traffic.
So if somebody was coming into Mareeba for the first time,
you know, what do you tell them?
Probably one of the main things to be aware of
on the Atherton Tablelands generally
and in Mareeba is the density altitude.
So Mareeba aerodrome is 1,500 feet above sea level,
and Atherton aerodrome to the south is 2,500 feet above sea level.
So significant density altitude issues, particularly in summertime.
So the density altitude in summer
can be upwards of 5-6,000 feet in this area,
so from a performance point of view, aircraft performance,
you have to be very careful
and aware of what your density altitude is
because if you're flying a heavily loaded aeroplane
out of a shorter strip on a hot day at elevation,
your density altitude is significant.
So that's one thing to be aware of.
Mareeba also has fairly bad bird issues.
We've got a lot of birds in the area
around Mareeba aerodrome, particularly, and Atherton.
There's a lot of cropping and farming in the area,
so of course that tends to attract birds,
so you have to keep a particularly good lookout for those
flying into both Mareeba and Atherton and Dimbulah to the west as well.
And what do you instil into your students about early decision-making
and just being onto stuff nice and early?
Yeah, well, it's...it's...
Particularly a flight from Mareeba to Cairns,
it happens very quickly and there's a lot going on.
So decision-making is important and being prepared is important.
Before you even get in the aeroplane, as I said,
you've got your flight plan submitted,
you've spoken to air traffic control, you know that the gap is safely open.
And if any of those things aren't lined up, just don't leave,
because, you know, it's better that you're on the ground in Mareeba
waiting for an appropriate time to go
than trying to fly up and down the ranges
trying to find a hole in the mountains to get through.
That sort of pressure can lead to poor decision-making.
Make the decision on the ground as to whether you can get through or not,
and don't leave until you're sure that you can.
-SALLY: Yes, lots of ultralights.
Particularly on weekends -
Saturday morning on a nice day, they're everywhere.
Most of them are on the radio.
Even our microlights, they are on the radio as well.
There are some ultralights, particularly west of Mareeba,
that don't have radio, so, as always, remain vigilant.
And what about agricultural operations?
SALLY: Obviously being an agricultural area, lot of cropping.
There is ag ops operating out of Atherton,
and they do a fair bit of spraying in the Mareeba area,
particularly around Mareeba Airport, there's a lot of banana plantations.
Those guys are on the radio maintaining a listening watch.
So, again, it's all about maintaining that good lookout.
And often those guys will actually be spraying within the circuit area,
and often on downwind, base, and final as well.
And they'll just work in conjunction with your arrival,
but they're always on the radio, particularly at Mareeba.
This is a pretty busy base
in terms of people getting supplies and stuff for out west.
It is, yeah, Mareeba's the largest town in the region,
so from here there's no real supply towns
west to the Gulf of Carpentaria,
which is 260-70 nautical miles away.
And to the north, Cape York Peninsula is 430 nautical miles away,
so there's a lot of station aircraft that come in and out of Mareeba.
There's a couple of maintenance facilities here
where station aircraft will fly into,
get their maintenance done, do supply shopping and things like that.
So it's a real hub for general aviation,
so it's quite an active place for North Queensland.
Active place and a great place for students to learn.
(AEROPLANE ENGINE STARTS AND RUMBLES)
PETE: Next we visit the Warbird Adventures Aviation Museum.
This looks more like a museum here, but actually there is
a very awesome work in progress happening right here.
Paul from North Queensland Warbirds
is restoring this beautiful WWII advanced trainer, the Harvard.
Isn't she a beauty?
And owners of ageing aircraft
can take a really, really good message out of this.
What Paul is doing is putting new wiring into this plane.
The materials and the components are being refurbished,
and this is what it takes to get an aircraft of this age
flying well and flying safely.
Isn't she a beauty?
David, tell me about your aviation adventures around Australia.
So, I started flying about 20 years ago,
and got my private pilot's licence, and then 15 years later
I found myself a job in Darwin,
flying around Australia for the Bible Society.
During those four to five years,
I had a lot of experience flying into remote airstrips
and gained some interesting experience along the way.
How long at a time would you be away from home?
Generally two to three weeks I'd be away from Darwin,
so again that takes a lot of careful planning.
So, some of the things that I learnt
is you're relying on information for airstrips,
but you're also relying on information
to get access to food or water or fuel,
and applying that to your trip was quite important.
Often you don't even know when you're going to get to the next bathroom.
-So that can be part of your plan.
-There's a challenge.
The pre-trip planning process on the ground is absolutely essential.
So there's things like - well, what is the weather doing?
What it's likely to be doing in a few days' time?
Is it better to delay the trip? Where can I get fuel?
Is it reliable fuel? Is there a fuel truck? It is a fuel drum?
I had an experience where a 15-knot tailwind
turned into a 40-knot headwind,
so I needed to do a 200-nautical-mile diversion
to get to a small community that I knew had fuel.
And they had 10 drums of avgas
and only one of them at the very back was in date.
So just things like that, that you need to start to think about.
That was out in the middle of the Tanami Desert,
so maybe plan via Tennant Creek, where you know you can have
a reliable fuel supply and that type of thing.
Any plans for an adventure for yourself?
I'd like to fly around Australia again,
but for now it's working with MAF,
training the next generation of pilots
to be able to fly in the outback and New Guinea and also in Africa.
Mate, it's been awesome meeting you. Thanks, David. Cheers.