Flight for Sight No.2 Raising money for charity

Flight for Sight

Flight for Sight 2005 – Or as we prefer to call it…. “the Pipistrel world discovery tour”

For the third year in a row we have just completed an outback tour of Queensland raising money for the Royal Blind foundation. This year’s event started on the 1st of September and finished on Sunday the 11th of September 2005.

To say the event was a success is an understatement as this year’s tour raised more than A$100,000 for the Royal Blind Foundation Queensland with all of the funds going towards services to aide people who are blind or have vision impairments.

As always the team from the Royal Blind Foundation supported our aircraft by providing a ground support team. The deputy CEO of the Royal Blind foundation, Mr Gerard Gosens, was again the precious cargo we transported around Queensland. Gerard, who has been blind since birth, continues to amaze us by not letting his disability slow him down. We were kept amused at the various events throughout the tour with Gerard’s stories of his recent attempt at climbing Mount Everest and the other adventures he has undertaken.

Being a Para Olympian Gerard still trains every day and on some mornings when we crawled out of bed at 6 a.m. he had already returned from a 30 km training run. Fortunately none of us pilots had to go with him on this run as he used a number of sportspeople from the towns we visited as guide runners. When he wore one runner out they would then pass the lead to the next person and off they would go again.

This year our team was made up of Phil Allen from Canberra, Charles Dalglish from Lithgow and myself, with two Sinus aircraft and one Virus aircraft completing the event. Conditions this year were almost ideal however we still had many testing situations which really showed the potential of the Pipistrel aircraft over a wide variety of terrain, weather and other conditions. Our only casualty for the event was two punctures from taxing on grass with large burrs which punctured the tires. Other than that, all three aircraft performed faultlessly.

Our thanks go to the sponsors this year who included the AMP Foundation, Telstra, BP Air who supplied all the fuel for the aircraft, Caltex who supplied the fuel for our ground support vehicle, Transfield services, XCOM Avionics and Ford Australia through their dealer Brian Burt Ford.

This year we again travelled a different route. Leaving from Brisbane after our media commitments on day one we travelled from Archerfield airport to the Gold Coast for lunch and then on to Toowoomba for our evening stop. From their we travelled inland to overnight in Emerald, Charters Towers, and then on to the coastal city of Cairns where we enjoyed a rest day. Then we followed the coastline on one side and the Great Barrier Reef on the other visiting Townsville, Mackay, Rockhampton, Gladstone, Bundaberg, Maroochydore and finally finishing the event back at Brisbane’s Archerfield airport after our 11 day expedition.

I can personally say that our time spent with the Royal Blind Foundation team and the time spent with the various charities and people with vision impairments who we meet on this trip is one of the most rewarding tasks I have ever undertaken. I am always amazed at people who are blind or have vision impairments who undertake life without their disability detracting from their quality of life or enjoyment. The time we spend raising funds and awareness for the Royal Blind foundation is truly rewarding. For the third year running I have been privileged to see the event continue to grow, raising more funds to provide support services for the blind and vision impaired and also improving the awareness of the services and simple preventative measures which can be taken to minimise the risk of blindness.

I thank the Royal Blind Foundation for the opportunity to be a part of this annual event and for the enjoyment and rewards that the pilots and I receive along the journey.

Such is the success of the Flight for Sight event that next year we may be taking it nationally and possibly completing a full circumnavigation of Australia in 2006.

Well it took Charles about seven months to file his report on the 2004 event. Even though we have just completed the 2005 event I enclose it here so you can get a real feel of the event from another pilot’s perspective.

Flight For Site By Charles Dalglish.

Michael Coates asked me if I would like to join this adventure of flying my Sinus around outback Queensland and down the coast following the Great Barrier Reef. It was very short notice, but her indoors said I was due for a holiday and should go.

Meeting a blind man who liked flying was going to be interesting and flying up to Cooktown and back down the entire coast to Brisbane with two other Pipistrel’s is an offer which does not come along very often.

Oh, and did I tell you there was talk of free fuel from BP, not that we were going to need much and added to this free accommodation. It was suggested I meet the gathering at Toowoomba for the civic reception after the team had launched their trip from Coolangatta and Archerfield two days before.

The trip up to Toowoomba was another example of my bottomless pit of luck. Although it was a bit rough, I had a ground speed of more than 150 kts in places and arrived overhead Toowoomba in just 2hours 55 minutes. I used 38 liters of fuel, which is absurd considering I had just flown all the way from Little Hartley in the Blue Mountains non-stop which is a distance of just under 400 nautical miles.

My arrival might have been described as alarming, if not unconventional. The thirty knot tail wind now became a 30kt cross wind. The cross strip was barricaded for the impending Airshow, so I had no alternative but to dive down into wind across the open patch of ground before the main threshold. To the uninitiated this looked like a plane crash caught by the violent wind as it dipped out of sight. I am told a few people were all ready to run to the rescue, but Michael Coates refused to move. He confidently claimed that I was an excellent pilot and was quite used to these conditions in the mountains. Moments later I arrived over the brow of the hill, and very relieved to tie down and as Michael mentioned later he was also very happy to see me tie down really not admitting if his confidence in my ability was up to the task.

This whole trip is hinged round the RBF (Royal Blind Foundation) and what an education it would be. I’ve seen the blind guys begging in London, selling matches, or playing an instrument. Apart from trying to find the bathroom in the dark when there is a power failure, I have no idea about being blind. I often thank God I can see, because I know I could not fly without my eyesight, and I love flying!

I was introduced to Gerard Gosens outside the Civic Hall at Toowoomba. He looks quite normal, in fact on closer inspection he looks a very fit athletic chap. He is groping the roof gutter on this new Ford Explorer, donated to RBF for this trip, to find the tailgate. He opens it and finds his bag amongst all this stuff loaded up for the trip round Queensland. He reaches in and pulls out a couple of items he is looking for, and carefully goes to repack the bag, when Tegan, the tour manager takes over to secure the baggage back in to the vehicle. Gerard confidently walks in on the arm of one of his team to be introduced to the various dignitaries.

He recalls all their names from last year. After a few nibbles Gerard makes his speech, which is quite motivational. He explains that some of these new talking watches and talking books are greatly assisting visually impaired people. I also learn that sight impairment is on the increase. I am also amazed that Gerard Gosens has already climbed to the base camp of Mount Everest, and is determined to reach the summit this next year. He explained to the gathering that the bandage on his leg was only temporary as he had a bad fall from his parachute landing last week.

Many of us in his team were quite pleased that he had suffered this set back, as it meant we could keep up with him!

Gerard has been blind from birth, which I think might be kinder than knowing what you have lost later.

I noticed on our trip round there were quite a few vision-impaired kids who were wrapped pretty tight in cotton wool by their parents. No-one told Gerard he could not ride a pushbike to school, so he did. He listened to the sounds of his brother’s bike leading the way! He has since ridden a Kawasaki 900 motorbike and drives the tractor on the farm while harvesting mangos. He operates by voice commands and feels useful, he loves riding a Jet Ski and goes flat out with the help of a pillion.

Because Gerard Gosens has lost the use of his eyes he has sharpened up his other senses, such as hearing and smell. He remembers every ladies perfume to great effect and was able to point out, while we were on a walk, that we were approaching a fruit shop long before we could see it. He asked for oranges and since I was getting to know him after a few days, I thought I would give him some lemons instead. You can’t kid him. It is amazing. He knows the difference between all the fruits and you can’t short-change him on any money either even though I tested him several times.

Gerard Gosens is the deputy CEO of the RBF and could run any company. He is highly respected and is not just a token. Gerard has run from Cairns to Brisbane several times and what a marathon that is being more than 2500 km. He hates being given pens for gifts, or paperweights, or even paper. None of these things feature in his life. He uses a computer to great effect. The narrator section assists him, he types faster than I talk and he corresponds by email and phone.

When it was my chance to fly Gerard, whenever I described a part of the scenery, he knew exactly where we were. He remembers all the Great Western Hotels we stay at and which street they are on.

We all had a terrific 10 days on this trip. I met some very generous hard working people, and we raised lots of money. My formation flying improved, and I saw spectacular Queensland scenery including lots of deserted beaches. Michael did all the radio work as we formate our way into lots of primary airports. This suited me down to the ground, as I hate talking on the radio. I put this fact down to me learning to fly before the days of radio. They were good days!

Gerard Gossan is an exceptional person, probably because he is blind. He has a great sense of humour, and absolutely no hint of bitterness about life. He is inspirational and shows that many of us are not using our full potential. This trip was a wonderful tonic for me. I would love to be asked to come again.

Well that’s it for now ….. Safe flying Michael Coates