Welcome to Newsletter 24 – a slightly belated newsletter covering our adventures during October. Thank you to Phil from Canberra for the first contribution and Charles for the second personal report.
Please read on…….
Flight for Sight 2004 – a Pipistrel Odyssey
For those readers that are not familiar with the Flight for Sight events, these are flights that Gerrard Gosens undertakes to raise funds for the Royal Blind Foundation of Queensland, so that they may provide much needed services for the blind and vision impaired throughout regional Queensland. You might ask “What is so special about these flights ?” Well the answer is quite simple, Gerrard is totally blind. He has been blind from birth and he pilots the Pipistrel Motorglider throughout this journey, aided by a sighted pilot.
This year’s expedition started off extremely rushed. Michael was busy delivering aircraft and I was hastily trying to get my propeller repaired from all of the stone chips encountered on the gravel strips that I’d visited in previous months. I should never have removed that propeller tape.
This year we had a spare seat in my aircraft, as the crew from the Royal Blind Foundation was down by one, so I asked my usual suspects along for the ride. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get the time off work but while discussing the trip, a lone fellow named Ian Dias overheard. He asked a few questions and showed interest in helping out so we offered him the position of general helper and photographer. The excitement on his face was overwhelming.
We prepared the Virus for the flight from Canberra to Jacob’s Well and set off early to take advantage of the smooth morning air. The trip was uneventful and we took the opportunity to do some sightseeing along that way past the Blue Mountains and on to Armidale. A quick fuel stop, bite to eat, chat with the locals and we were off again.
The valleys and cliffs around the Blue Mountains
Refueling at Armidale
It wasn’t long before we had the coastline in sight once again and we were nearing our first stop on this 14 day journey. As we neared the Gold Coast, Ian remarked on the distance that one can see from this perch on top of the world. This was only Ian’s second flight in a very light aircraft, his first being our trip to Raglan a few months earlier.
Getting closer to the Gold Coast with the land giving way to the sea
Arriving at Jacob’s Well
On arrival at Jacob’s Well the work really started. Michael’s new Sinus had not been test flown and we had to fit it out with both UHF and VHF radios, removing the King and installing the new XCOM 760. We use the UHF CB radios for inter-aircraft communications and also to talk to the ground crew in the Ford Explorer, generously donated by Bryan Byrt Ford for the period of the trip. The XCOM VHF radios provide dual watch capability so we can also chat on these whilst still maintaining a listening watch on the appropriate area frequencies.
In addition to getting Michael’s plane ready, we also had to produce and place the sponsorship signs on both aircraft and the vehicle. Just to top off this workload, we also had three Allegros being delivered on the day before we were due to leave and they had to be removed from the container to minimize storage charges. And finally we had a stall warning indicator to fit to a customer’s Sting as he was to fly his aircraft home just after we left. We were in for three very long and busy days.
Testing the installation of the XCOM Radio
The aircraft sponsorship
All of the sponsors are recognized
Preparing the ground crew vehicle
We didn’t quite manage to get everything done but we were lucky, the trip was to commence from Brisbane’s Archerfield Airport and head to Coolangatta for the first stop. We could then fly back to Jacob’s Well in the afternoon, finish our work on the Sting, test fly it, prepare it for delivery and return to Coolangatta to meet the team the following day. A great plan.
Our arrival at Archerfield was a little disappointing. Last year we had press representatives all over us but this year there were bigger stories to cover. That didn’t stop Michael trying to chat up those reporters that did cover our story however. We took the opportunity to top up with fuel from BP Air, who graciously sponsored us again this year, and then we were off to Coolangatta where we were greeted by Gold Coast Mayor Ron Clark, members of the press and children from Miami High school.
Miami High kids greet Gerrard
Michael finds time to chat up the reporters
That evening, Tegan and Gerrard attended a function hosted by the Rotary Club at the Tweed Heads Bowls Club where a raffle was held and generous donations gathered. The following morning I had the opportunity to take the raffle winner, Paul, on a flight along the Gold Coast. No amount of planning could have resulted in the sights we saw as a group of migrating whales gave a show. I requested an orbit from Coolangatta tower and we circled overhead at 500′ as the whales came to the surface and danced beneath us. This was certainly a prize that Paul would never forget. After our morning jolly up the coast, we regrouped the team and headed off to Toowoomba.
Paul wins the coastal flight from Coolangatta
Our arrival into Toowoomba was met by strong, gusty winds but the Pipistrel aircraft handled the conditions without effort. Charles Dalglish decided to join us for the flight and arrived shortly after us, making a spectacular landing across the runway at the threshold. The Royal Flying Doctor PC-12 had recently landed and the crew watched in awe as Charles appeared to crash at the end of the runway but Michael assured them that he was just doing his usual arrival and was used to short field landings at his Little Hartley airstrip. After a couple of minutes, Charles appeared over the rise after his long taxi from the other end of the airfield.
Toowoomba is always a pleasure to visit. We were again refueled by our favorite ladies of the Country Women’s Association before heading off to an afternoon reception at the City Hall hosted by Toowoomba Mayor Dianne Thorley. Unfortunately, the Mayor had to rush off to inspect some fires nearby but that did not dampen the enthusiasm of all visitors to hear Gerrard speak of his achievements and adventures.
Day 3 took us on to Springsure and Emerald. The Springsure town folk gave us a warm welcome at the airstrip. They had erected a small marquee and grandstand to keep the sun off while we all sat and chatted. We were overwhelmed by the hospitality of this small town who were grateful to be included in our stopovers.
The big Emerald race day was in full swing as we arrived so we took the opportunity to do some formation fly-pasts over the race track between races. We had rung ahead and organized this with the local council and jockey club as we were concerned that we might spook the horses – now that would have made the local news ! The race day proved fruitful with over $2500 being raised by a “bucket walk”.
Springsure’s remote venue at the airfield
Emerald race day flypast
Mayor Peter McGuire entertained us again that evening at a function hosted by the local Lions Club. The Lions Clubs along our route were extremely generous in their efforts to help us raise the much needed funds to support the Royal Blind Foundation.
Day 4 was the longest part of the trip, traversing from Emerald to Cairns via Charters Towers. As we headed out of Emerald and traveled north, the cloud increased so we elected to ride above in the smoother air. As the cloud became thicker our illustrious leader decided that it was time to drop through a hole to the bumpier air below. Unfortunately in this maneuver we lost sight of Charles and so we decided to fly ahead and meet him at Charters Towers. In typical Michael luck, Charles got the tailwinds and smooth ride while we battled the turbulence and headwinds to arrive 20 minutes later.
We had planned to refuel at Charters Towers but unfortunately, as the weather was very hot and the fuel tanks were low, an air pocket in the fuel pump line prevented us from getting fuel from the bowser and after 30 minutes of pumping, we realized that the hand pump was no better. We decided to hitch a ride into town and I jumped aboard with the local servo owner and a couple of Jerry cans, we he filled for free to help us on our way. After topping up the Virus and Charles’ Sinus (Michael had long range tanks so didn’t require fuel) we were ready to go. This still left me enough time to sample the exquisite cuisine offered by the local Lions Club ladies and witness the handing over of the cheque for funds raised.
A feast for Kings at Charters Towers
Charters Towers presents a cheque to Gerrard
After taking on ballast, we again departed for Cairns. The trip to Cairns provided smooth flying and the chance to take in the beautiful scenery northbound. This is some of Australia’s most picturesque coastline and it is easy to see why so many people are migrating north. It’s a far cry from the inland views I generally experience on my flights out of Canberra.
Smooth air provides some easy formation flying
The inland waterways before Cairns
Given the long haul’s that the ground crew were enduring on the trip, Cairns provided a nice rest and relaxation stop so we all decided to head out for dinner and sample the top-end’s Hog’s Breath Cafe. Along the walk to the restaurant, Charles’ nose for the finer things in life drew him to an ice cream shop and we were held to a promise to stop on the way home after dinner. Unfortunately, most of the team could not handle the large meal and desert so it was left up to Ian and myself to accompany Charles and seek the out the desert bar.
In initial planning, the aircrew were also to receive a rest day in Cairns but, since we were up so far north along the coast, I wanted to visit a new destination and I suggested that we head even further up to Cooktown. Tegan never misses an opportunity and since we had agreed to the extended leg, he organised a visit to the Cooktown school and lunch with local Lion President Peter Whipper. Peter took us to an out of the way little restaurant and museum where we learnt a little more about the local flora, fauna and reptiles.
Charles and Phil find desert
Ian is in awe at the snakes of the region
I still can’t get over the views of the coastline from the air. I envy those that live up north and can fly those skies all year round but we couldn’t stay; we had to continue our journey southwards to Townsville.
At Townsville we had a rousing reception of media and Lions Club members who hosted us at a wonderful morning tea at the airport before Tegan and Gerrard headed off to lunch with the Rotary Club of Townsville at Jupiters Hotel, then on to dinner at the RSL Club, hosted by the Rotary Club of Ross River and finally joining the rest of the team for dinner with the Townsville Lions Club at the Metropol Hotel.
A beautiful Queensland day on the coast
A rousing reception at Townsville
Before departing Townsville we were honored to be granted an exclusive tour of the Blackhawk maintenance facility. This is an amazing place and we learnt a lot about the complexities of the maintenance of these astounding aircraft. This was definitely a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity.
Charles wishing he had one of these in his hangar
Gerrard asking for the keys to his new machine
The trip further south to Mackay provided some excellent photo opportunities with scenic runs along the deserted beaches and higher level close formation flying above the clouds. Gerrard was also keen to get back behind the controls in the smooth air along the coast, where he has this uncanny ability to follow the coastline in and out of the bays.
Some close formation flying for the camera
Gerrard at the controls
Gerrard was greeted by teachers and vision impaired children from the Chelona State School upon our arrival at Mackay and the children presented Gerrard with a welcome poster which they had made. Gerrard is a great ambassador for the cause and takes great pleasure in meeting young children and providing them with support and encouragement to overcome the challenges which lie ahead in life.
Chelona State Schools greets Gerrard
Gerrard describes the controls and instruments
The trip continued south via Rockhampton, Gladstone and on to Bundaberg with unforgettable functions hosted by Rotary Clubs and QCWA at every location. The stop at Bundaberg was especially different this year with a Cocktail Party organized by Bundaberg’s AMP representative Mark Kirchner at the Bagara Golf Club. It was at this function that Tegan had organized to auction off a number of unique items, including a genuine torch carried in the 2004 Olympics. Even our teammate Charles supported the cause by bidding for and winning a Michael Shcumacher commemorative framed display piece.
I must also mention the excellent accommodation provided at Bundaberg. The Shoreline Apartments are a fabulous place to stay, located right on the waterline with picturesque views and calm surrounds. Our hosts also arranged a barbecue breakfast before we left. If ever you are visiting the Bundaberg area, I would highly recommend Shoreline Apartments as a top class venue.
The final event of the evening was the auction of the opportunity to undertake a flight in the Pipistrel aircraft the following morning. This was initially met with hesitation but, after a slow start, the interest peaked and two lucky bidders were promised a flight to remember.
Some unique items go under the hammer
Another flight winner with a grin from ear to ear
After the morning flights, we again set off to our next destination, Hervey Bay. The reception at Hervey Bay was truly outstanding. A royal guard, provided by the Hervey Bay Air Cadets, a pipe band, the Mayor, and about a hundred welcoming onlookers were present. The local Aero club provided joy flights, there was a barbecue, with all funds aiding the cause, and, to Charles’ approval, there was even an ice-cream van.
Many of the visitors were keen to see inside the cockpits of these “small craft” so guided tours were given by the aircrew. Ian really takes to the kids and he thoroughly enjoyed describing the controls and instruments to all of the curious young visitors.
But the highlight of the visit was to again see Todd and his family, who we met last year on our trip, and to see his improvement since meeting Gerrard one year ago.
We again did the “Shake the Can” tour of the Yatch Club and we were again privileged to receive the hospitality of the club president, George Duck.
Finally, it was airborne again on the final leg home and to a warm reception back at Archerfield airport.
The Flight for Sight was undertaken over a period of 10 days (plus another 4 on the trip from Canberra for Phil and Ian) and covered over 1877 NM (3476 Km) in approximately 20 flight hours. The fundraising en-route generated almost $100,000 to be used by the Royal Blind Foundation of Queensland to provide services to the Blind and Vision impaired in rural Queensland. The funds from last year’s event were used to open an outreach office in Cairns.
Many thanks go the all of the AMP Representatives for their efforts in fundraising and organization of events along the route. Thanks also go to the volunteers who provided their time, efforts and aircraft to make this journey a success.
And lastly, thank you to all of the sponsors who contributed services, goods and funds towards the success of this venture.
The entire team – (from left to right) David Adams – Ground Crew, Gerrard Gosens – Blind Pilot,
Phil Allen – Pilot, Charles Dalglish – Pilot, Ian Dias – Aircrew, Tegan Jones – Ground Crew and Organizer,
Tanya Hundloe – Ground Crew and Michael Coates – Pilot
Report by Charles Dalglish
Michael Coates asked me if I would like to join this adventure of flying my Sinus round some of Queensland and down the coast. It was very short notice, but the princess said I was due for a holiday and should go.By Charles Dalglish.
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, well that offer 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 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 was another example of my sheer luck. Although it was a bit rough, I had a ground speed of 150 kts in places and arrived overhead Toowoomba in just 2 hours 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, a distance of more than 380 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 to be held the following weekend, 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.
This whole trip is hinged around 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 was 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 MANGO’S. 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 shortchange him on any money either.
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. 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 E-mail 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 Gosen is an exceptional person, probably because he is blind. He has a great sense of humor, 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.