Well the Flight for Sight is over….. So much for our promised email updates during the trip. after the first day, email reliability plummeted and sometimes, on dial-up modems, we were getting 1200 baud speed so we just couldn’t get the emails out.
To say the trip was a success is an understatement ! Our original goals were twofold – to raise awareness of blind and vision impaired people; and also to raise $20,000 for the Royal Blind Foundation to kickstart their fundraising efforts to raise $2 million dollars over the next 2 years.
The RBF are still receiving donations through the mail and to date we have collected over $46,000 with around $50,000 expected to be the final figure over coming weeks. The trip was also a success for the Sinus and Virus motorgliders used on this adventure, with the only problem being a flat tire on the very last leg of the 6,000 km journey.
Following are photographs of the adventure and some brief commentary on our daily activities. It’s now 2 days after we arrived home and all the team are still catching up with sleep after 2 weeks of non stop go, go, go and 5am starts.
The team photo headed by Summit
Smiling for the team photo are Peter Korunick, Phil Allen (pilot of the Virus), Royal Blind Foundation Deputy Chief Executive Officer Gerrard Gosens (kneeling), Jayne Hedley-Boredom, Tegan Jones and finally our loyal friend Summit with yours truly as photographer.
The route flown for the Flight for Sight
Brisbane October 7thWarwick October 7Toowoomba October 8Roma October 9Emerald October 9
Longreach October 10
Mt Isa October 11
Cairns October 12
Townsville October 14
Mackay October 15
Rockhampton October 16
Gladstone October 16
Bundaberg October 17
Hervey Bay October 17
Maroochydore October 18
Brisbane October 18
Tuesday 7th October Flight for Sight is underway, but it almost didn’t happen after the rain that has recently been falling. The 24 hours before departure was solid rainfall so we started our first day sitting in our hanger at 6.00 am with everything packed and heavy rain hampering our departure from Jacobs Well to Brisbane’s Archerfield airport.
Flight for Sight is underway, but it almost didn’t happen after the rain that has recently been falling. The 24 hours before departure was solid rainfall so we started our first day sitting in our hanger at 6.00 am with everything packed and heavy rain hampering our departure from Jacobs Well to Brisbane’s Archerfield airport.
Many hours and many phone calls later we finally decided to run under the radar in very marginal Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC) to Archerfield for the media launch and press conferences.
All the major TV channels and print media were attending to help launch the event and ensure a successful start to our trip. We even had the Channel 9 and Channel 7 helicopters doing air-to-air footage of our arrival. Gerrard and the team did the media interviews as the rain still tumbled and our first leg to Warwick via Boonah was delayed by many hours.
The decision was made for Gerrard to travel by car instead of the Sinus as he had functions to attend that afternoon. We waited at Brisbane’s Archerfield airport for another hour or two before trying our luck at heading off to the south west towards Boonah.
The skies started to get lighter and the rain finally stopped. We even had a few shafts of sunlight breaking through the clouds ahead. Passing through Cunningham’s Gap with the main range behind us, the fertile valleys towards our destination of Warwick opened up before us. With no rain for the previous 12 weeks, we were expecting the valleys towards Warwick to be brown and dull but were pleasantly surprised when we saw the green paddocks in front. It’s amazing how things change after a few days and a few inches of rain.
Ahead we could see blue sky and the further we traveled from the coast the better the weather became. It wasn’t long before the cloud had reduced to around 2 octas and a fantastic afternoon was welcoming us into Warwick. On arrival, our team was meet by the local shire president and other local dignitaries and Phil even managed to get the local mayor up for a ride in the Virus before we enjoyed afternoon tea at the airfield. The mayor, who also owns a twin Comanche, was delighted to do a few laps around the airfield because his council has recently sealed the dirt runway which has serviced the town for many years. He used his quick trip to find sanding water alongside the runway and he marked the locations to get the council out the next day to fix up a few holes. He was also amazed and a little shocked we think when Phil slowed down and turned the engine off for a little soaring – he certainly can’t do that in his twin Comanche.
Wednesday 8th October
Today is the shortest flying day of the whole adventure. We started at around 8.00 am from Warwick heading to Toowoomba. The short 30 minute flight was expected to be a nice relaxing jaunt but with the rain of the past days having many planes grounded, they all seemed to take to the skies at once, heading to their destinations in the first flyable day in almost a week.
There were 7 planes in the circuit when we arrived into the Toowoomba MBZ. Greeted by the media again, we flew a few circuits and landings for the TV crews and then headed off after Gerard’s interviews for the first of our luncheons with the ladies of the CWA.
The CWA, for our international readers, is the Country Women’s Association. Because Australia is so vast and sparsely populated, many of the families living on rural stations only make it to town a couple of times a month. The CWA was initiated to provide a support network for the wives and families living in rural areas. The ladies of the CWA have built a reputation for fine cooking, handicrafts and, of course, the best scones you will ever eat!! The afternoon was spent at a mayoral reception at the Toowoomba Town Hall and the mayor organized a special treat for us to visit the Guido Zicolli fighter aircraft museum at the airfield.
Thursday 9th October
Longreach is really in the middle of nowhere. The photos accompanying the article show just how flat and dry the local terrain is. We traveled over these desolate outback areas relying on our GPS, maps and the few roads for navigation. About 30 kms out we switched off the engines and setup for a glide approach. When overhead the airport, we were still at 7,500 feet with the airbrakes deployed – the planes just wouldn’t come down… A Dash 8 inbound from the south east at 30 miles called up and we decided to drop the flaps and slide-slip down into circuit.
Longreach was flat , dry, millions of flies but very friendly and it wasn’t long before the planes were tied down and refueled and we were greeted by the local mayor Joan Maloney. We were soon off to afternoon tea and another civic reception with the CWA.
That evening we again had dinner with the local people and were fortunate to meet Claire, a vivacious 12 year old who was training at martial arts to.. I quote.. “Bash up her older brother”. She kept us amused all evening with tales of her two pet kangaroos including one big red with a broken tail. She also gave each of us a small rubber bracelet, much like a big “O” ring, to wear for good luck and it amazed me that not one of our team took them off before completing the trip.
Saturday 11th October
Lunch and auction raising funds
The highlight of our trip for the aircrew was a trip to Opalton.
Opalton could only be described as “The dead end on the road to nowhere”.. It is about as far from anywhere you could ever get and the floating population of around 35 people lived in very modest conditions mining opals and hoping one day to strike it rich chasing this elusive gem.
The hospitality from the residents was hard to believe and so was their airstrip.. Well maybe that’s being a bit kind calling it an airstrip. About 20 meters wide and with scrub each side, it didn’t allow for much error landing the Sinus with its 15 meter wingspan. Add the 20 to 30 knot gusty crosswind at 90 degrees to the strip, areas of MASSIVE lift and sink and it’s really a wonder I am here to write this newsletter.
The mine tour of Darrel’s Opencut mine
Gerrard in the Bucket of Darrel’s excavator
I began my first landing attempt and Phil jumped in front of me for a precautionary pass to check the strip. He reported massive sink and lift on final approach and strong turbulence over the strip. My first pass in the Sinus was aborted as the lift on final was around 1800 fpm and with the strip being so short there was no way of getting down. After Phil’s pass in the Virus he came around to land first. Both finally on the ground safely, we started to tie down as cars and people started to appear from the scrub… We were greeted with.. “We didn’t think you guys would come – it’s so bloody windy”.
Opals…… your fortune can be made in a day.
We were put into the cars and taken on a tour of the local mining area where we visited Darrel with the opencut mine and the most equipment on the field. We then went underground with Branko before being treated to a wonderful lunch where a cheque for almost $2000 was handed over – not bad from just 35 people. The biggest problem that the prospectors face is the lack of water. Just about every drop has to be trucked in because there are no dams in the area and it’s been over 9 months since the last rainfall. Most of the miners live in the area for around 8 or 9 months after which they leave because of the high summer temperatures when it will often go above 50 degrees C (122 f) for months on end.
Branko mines underground for opals
Gerrard helping Phil ‘see in the dark’ in Branko’s mine
Departing Opalton, we tracked North West over the many flood plains and deserts of ancient times towards the mining town of Mt Isa. Arriving into Mt Isa at around 3.30pm we were the guests of the local CWA and mayor, Ron McCullough at a civic reception.
A sense of humour is a must at Opalton
Sunday 12th October
Mt Isa to Cairns.. Our longest single day should have been around 4.5 hours with the stop in Georgetown for a splash and dash but the persistent 20 knot headwind made the trip enjoyable but a little longer than planned. Leaving Mt Isa we climbed to around 7,500 and made good time across the dry and flat plains which are the northern areas of Australia’s gulf country.
This would have to be the most desolate and remote part of the whole trip; with the odd house or shed being sighted only every 30 minutes or so, there was nothing for as far as we could see. The absolute remoteness and hardship these graziers face on a daily basis would test my ability to keep going. For the last three years the seasonal rains have failed to come and many have left after being financially ruined.
Our descent into Georgetown for refueling was a reality check as the temperatures started to increase the lower we went. On final, with the sweat starting to run, I guess it was around 40 C (105F). We had previously arranged for a local property owner to fuel us up as the local Airport fuel supplier had no avgas. He boasted with only a couple of planes a week, one of which delivered the mail, there wasn’t much need for fuel here. His brand new pump had some difficulty starting but then the fuel flowed as we topped up the aircraft with 40 liters each… I was happy to be using a special filter funnel when I looked into the funnel after filling the first aircraft; it was full of metal, lots of metal. I wondered at what damage would be done if we had just filled the tanks directly; lesson learnt again, ALWAYS filter the fuel from drums, ALWAYS.
The fertile areas on the Atherton Tableands west of Cairns
Our departure and climb into the expected cooler air was hindered by the lowering cloud base as we neared the east coast of Australia near Cairns. Passing over the Atherton tablelands the weather was getting warmer and more humid and large storm cells were all around but we managed to pick our way through the storms over Mareeba and then into Cairns control before landing behind a 737 and a C130. Our aircraft are so quiet that we flew right over the top of the assembled media and they didn’t get our landings on film because they didn’t hear us coming.
The prettiest reporter of the trip was in Cairns !!
After the media commitments, we reflected on the past days covering the designated remote wilderness regions. Thousands of kilometers in some of the harshest country on earth. The rest day tomorrow and the ease of coastal navigation meant the special demands of the past week were gone.
Today was a much needed rest day where we washed some clothes and caught a movie. It was actually timed perfectly because it rained almost all day and it would probably have been unflyable anyway. Our trusty ground crew also needed a well deserved break after the 14+ hour drive from Mt Isa.
Tuesday 14th October
Low cloud still hampered our departure from Cairns and as expected with the start of the wet season, it had been raining on and off during the evening. With special VFR clearance we were approved to depart Cairns coastal at 1000 ft for Townsville. Today took us past areas of World Heritage Listed rainforest and of course the Great Barrier Reef. It’s disappointing that the weather was so bad because the photographs of the reef just didn’t turn out like they can on a sunny day.
BABY JAYNE as she was affectionately called on the UHF radio.
Jayne took the opportunity to fly in the Sinus and swap with Peter in the car for the day. She really enjoyed the trip and even spotted a 5 meter crocodile in the small rivers as we neared Townsville.
Approaching from the North, Townsville has to be one of the hardest airports to find as it blends into the terrain and you only see the runway when you’re about 1 mile out.
Wednesday 15th October
Views through the Whitsunday Islands
Pristine beaches line the Australian Coast
An early morning call had us at the airport well ahead of the other crew; today we had the opportunity to take Peter Krauss for a fly. Peter is a regular correspondent for the US Custom Planes magazine and has run several stories on our activities in the past. After a 1 hour sortie and return to the airport we were met by the Airport security car with three of the air traffic controllers behind the wheel. They don’t often get aircraft like the Sinus and Virus in Townsville as it’s usually just 737’s Dash 8’s, F18’s and other assorted military aircraft. Sport aircraft don’t normally venture into the major airports we visited. They loved the planes and even had the opportunity to sit in the Sinus. Our new friendship almost guaranteed us priority airways clearance on departure and with a 737 roaring down the runway only meters from our holding point we were thankful of the cross wind to blow the wake turbulence from our outbound path. The run from Townsville to Mackay was very enjoyable with the rainforest giving way to the drier, more temperate areas of the north Queensland coast.
Thursday 16th October
Our aircraft Fuel sponsor BP Air. Their facilities around Queensland are really first class and we thank them for the assistance throughout the trip.
The realization that our adventure was almost over seemed to changed the festive mood of the whole trip as the end drew near. Instead of the freedoms of flying (and copious amounts of food) we would all soon be back at work, paying bills, answering phones etc.. “The shear beauty of the areas we had traveled will remain with us forever” was the comment as we traveled to Mackay airport in preparation for today’s trip to Rockhampton and then on to Gladstone for our overnight stop. The weather was again kind to us with light winds, blue sky and very light cloud cover. Our lunchtime stop in Rocky was interesting as the Australian Air Force were conducting exercises with several overseas forces and the airport was full of French made helicopters owned by the Singapore Airforce. There were also hundreds of tents occupied by our own Air Force. After a lovely luncheon with the Mayor and CWA girls, we returned to the airport to answer lots of questions from the Airforce boys who thought it would be great to get “back to basics” instead of flying their “computerized workhorses”.
Ahh…. the worries of media and pretty reporters….. someone has to do it.
The afternoon run to Gladstone was enjoyable with many turtles, dugongs, dolphins and the odd whale spotted off the coast. The opportunity to drop down low and fly across the mud-flats was not to be missed and for a few minutes we skipped across the mud at around 20 feet, practicing low angle approaches and touch-n-goes. The landing at Gladstone was quite demanding with my second go-around for the trip as the rotor off the trees in the 15 knot cross wind set me up for what could have been a heavy landing. No problem in the Sinus, just drop the spoilers and add a bit of throttle and we were off again. I also had the opportunity with Gerrard beside me to blame him – it’s not my fault, he was flying !! Phil took the opportunity to rub it in for the rest of the day after his nice landing on his first attempt in the Virus.
Friday 17th October
Another Civic Reception.. more food.
Leaving Gladstone early saw another perfect morning but the weather soon changed to showers as we headed down the coast to Bundaberg – home of Jabiru and Microair. The rest of the team headed into town for a function and we took the opportunity to get two Microair transponders and a radio repaired. Whenever the radio got warm the squelch wouldn’t work and the transponders threw in the towel long ago with mine blowing a power transmitter and the other displaying “no comms” all the time. Fortunately Microair had the time to fix the problems and we headed off after lunch to Hervey Bay for the night.
The afternoon function was again well attended and a mother and son introduced themselves after the meeting. Young Todd, who was only 6 years old, had about 6% vision and his mother was unaware of the different support services available outside of their town. Our trip was an ideal opportunity to bring the services and resources of the Royal Blind Foundation to their attention with the funds raised during the trip going to help kids just like Todd.
We arranged for Todd to meet us at the airport the next morning and he had a good look over the planes and sat in the pilot’s seat. Phil and I organized a special treat for him and with mum’s approval we taxied him around the apron area in Phil’s Virus. I got on the UHF radio and played control tower by giving “Tom’s Plane” taxi approvals, turnaround instructions and finally parking directions. All the commands were read back to me in a faint little voice and the joy and smiles we brought to him in those few minutes still bring tears to my eyes. This was the whole purpose of the trip – finding young children and families with vision impairments or blindness and making them aware of the resources and services available to them through the RBF.
Saturday 18th OctoberThe final run was from Hervey Bay to Maroochydore for lunch and on to the finish at Brisbane’s Archerfield airport at 3pm. The weather was again closing in and a few showers passed through as we headed into controlled airspace for landing at Maroochy. After a nice luncheon, we arrived at the airport to find we had a puncture on the pilots side of my aircraft. after the jokes about eating all those scones with jam and cream had passed, we soon realized that with a 45 minute flight to the waiting media we had only 15 minutes to repair the puncture. Fortunately the planes are light and we managed to fit a new tube, borrow a pump and be ready for take off in just 20 minutes.
Brisbane bound and tracking along Bribie Island
Rolling for the final time we climbed out, heading along Bribie Island before being directed into Brisbane controlled airspace and our arrival into Archerfield airport.
The trip was over as we raced away from Gerrard’s wife who seemed intent on covering us with champagne like you see the formula one drivers doing on TV. A few speeches for the media and it was all over.
The trip was a huge success ! The Sinus and Virus performed faultlessly with the exception of one puncture and the transponders playing up. With over 6,000 kms traveled in some of the harshest and unforgiving country in the world, the trip didn’t even really test the ability of these aircraft.
The funds and awareness raised along the way will go towards starting the RBF’s campaign to raise over 2 million dollars in the next two years. Our original goal of $20,000 was easily surpassed with just under $50,000 being raised and funds still trickling in from various groups throughout the coming weeks.
Overall, a fantastic trip and a huge success.Thank you to the many council and charity groups which raised vital funds for the “Flight for Sight”
The aim of ‘Flight for Sight’ is to raise in excess of $20,000 to assist addressing the rising rate of blindness and vision impairment in Queensland. If you would like to help make ‘Flight for Sight’ a success and make a donation to the Royal Blind Foundation, please contact us on 07 3391 9191 (International +61 7 3391 9191) or download the Flight for Sight 2003 form and fax back to 07 3391 3406 (International +61 7 3391 3406)
|Telstra for supplying our Satellite Communication equipment||Air BP Australia for supplying the fuel for our aircraft||Caltex Australia for supplying the fuel for our ground support vehicle||Ford Australia for supplying the ground support vehicle|