Mission 37 - Archerfield to Thargomindah


On Thursday the 11th of December 2003 I flew Mission 37, making it my 1st Angel Flight.

The patient in this instance was 11 month old Mitchell Keene, who had undergone open heart surgery to fix a problem with his fuel-pump some 2 months ago and subsequently suffered a stroke. He has to go to Brisbane on a regular basis for check-ups. Living out the 'Back of Bourke' means that his mother Rebecca and his twin brother Alister have to normally spend 15 hours on the road each way to go to Brisbane.

Bill Bristow speedily, and in pressurised comfort, had conveyed Mitchell, freeloader Alister and Rebecca from Thargomindah to Archerfield on the Wednesday morning in a non-stop flight.

On Thursday, following their doctors appointment, they were scheduled to fly back with me to Thargomindah. I was using my own plane, a Beechcraft 36 Bonanza. Due to the somewhat more limited range (compared to Bill's Malibu), we had to stop en-route for fuel at Cunnamulla. A friend of mine, Rob, had volunteered to come along for the trip to firstly help nurse (not in the literal sense of the word) one of the boys, and secondly keep me company on the long and lonely trip back home.


Rob and I met up at the airport at about 1:30pm to prepare the plane: Daily pre-flight, kick the tires, install the anchor point for the expected baby seat and position the aircraft at the terminal for our charges.

Rebecca and the two boys arrived at 2:45pm on a stinking hot afternoon. She had been told that there was no need for a baby seat - Bill on the outbound had had another person on board to hold the second baby, and Angel Flight knew about Robs presence. But I had been of the understanding that a baby seat would be there and had briefed Rob accordingly. So Rob was all of a sudden quite literally been left holding the baby - which he did most graciously.

Following the loading of the double pram, remarkably little luggage, and doing a last minute personal fuel-drain (there is no toilet in a Bonanza), we got airborne at 3:15pm. Ahead lay some 2 hours 40 minutes flight-planned route to Cunnamulla, a quick refuel, and then a flight planned 40 minutes on to Thargomindah

First leg - Archerfield to Cunnamulla

Initially, as we climbed to 10,000 feet, conditions were fair and smooth. Rob was looking after Mitchell on take-off and keeping him occupied and his inquisitive fingers away from the colourful GPS and the glowing radios before he fell asleep on his lap:

Both Rob andA kept on asking me about the name of the township here or township there. Flying by Instrument Flight Rules (beacon hopping), I each time had to admit that I had no idea - I just knew whAext beacon was.

As the trip progressed and the towns became further and further apart, Rebecca, having driven the route on numerous occasions, could tell both us where the heck we were and provide a commentary worthy of a tour-guide.

Later on, Rebecca had both offspring with her in the middle seats and they seemed to be enjoying themselves:

As we approached Cunnamulla and the occluded front that was centred just East of Cunnamulla, we encountered a little turbulence and had to dodge around several thunder storm clouds. Talking on HF radio with its attendant squeaks, crackles and whistles to obtain clearance to temporarily divert off-track was a challenge in itself.

Initially the passengers had little problem with the associated turbulence. But, as the descent was started, young Mitchell, being looked after by Rob at this stage, was getting a little narky. Since his brother was in a much better mood, a swap of infants was negotiated. Being the ever experienced mother, Rebecca authoritatively informed everyone that she had figured out what his problem was: Mitchell was merely hungry, and proceeded to gulp down lots of milk out of his bottle.

Well ... that was the incorrect diagnosis, as Rebecca discovered 10 minutes later: Mitchell did a complete fuel-dump through the filler neck all over Mum and himself. Luckily for Rob and me the airflow in the cabin is from the front to the back. Less than 15 minutes later we were on the ground at Cunnamulla.

Cunnamulla has the somewhat dubious distinction of being the first Queensland town to be fully sewered back in 1938 (Doesn't say much for the rest of Queensland, does it?)

Here you can see Rebecca resplendent in her shirt with a true motherhood design, and Mitchell after having been stripped off his similarly decorated top on the left while Allister is merely looking on:

After a 15 minute wait the refueller turned up and pumped 173 litres of AVGAS on-board.

Rob had a refreshing cup of tea and the boys played on the tarmac while Rebecca changed into something a little less aromatic, and all the adults made use of the historic sewers.

Second leg - Cunnamulla to Thargomindah

The quick get-away from Cunnamulla was thwarted by Mr Continental, who did not allow a clean re-start of the heat-soaked engine. Everyone wound up having to climb back out of the aircraft and let the engine cool down for another half hour or so.

After clambering back on-board, to protests of "Why do we have to get back into this stinking aircraft again?" - with my retort of "Well, who's fault was it that we have a stinking aircraft??", we finally got away just as daylight was fading.

Both children slept through most of the way, with Allister nestling up to Rob for the entirety of the flight, stirring only at the turn onto final.

So, about an hour late (due to thunder storm dodging and the cantankerous engine), we arrived in the dark at Thargomindah, the runway having been 'swept' of kangaroos, by the local SES (State Emergency Services) volunteer just prior to our arrival.

Both Mitchell and Allister were keen to see their dad.

Following the transfer of bags to the family car, lots of good wishes, Rebecca and offspring headed home, while Rob and I did the same thing. The only difference being - Rebecca was a 4 minute drive from her front door while we had another 4 odd hours of flying to do.

The proprietors of the Oasis Motel in Thargo had extended an offer for a square meal to both us. But due to the long haul back home and a projected return time of about 1 am at this time, we declined the offer. Having only seen the airport terminal and the magpie sized mosquitos, we climbed back aboard the Bonanza.

The trip home

I had planned to merely overfly Charleville and land at Roma for more fuel. Roma was chosen because it was at a convenient distance and had a fuel bowser which permits use of a self service fuel card at my disposal - so there would be no need to call someone out to the aerodrome to do the refueling.

Following a 'black hole' take-off from Thargomindah, and about half way to Charleville, flight service (not of the uniformed variety with a tray of drinks, but of the air traffic controller variety) informed us of a SPECI (Special Aerodrome Forecast) that predicted the wind at Roma to be blowing at 20kts straight across the only runway with lights. As chance had it, we overheard another pilot just having landed at Roma. A short conversation with that pilot about the actual conditions persuaded me to not attempt a night landing with such a severe cross-wind.

So a decision was made to land at Charleville for fuel instead. The local refueller had to be roused from his late night activities (whatever those might be at 10:30pm), and it took him some 30-40 minutes to show up to recharge the tanks with a further 118 litres of AVGAS and have a country chin-wag about flying, life and other weighty matters.

Another 'black hole' take-off and we were finally airborne for the last leg at 11:15pm. Flight service gave us a direct route to Archerfield, a distance of some 368nm without any reporting points - the GPS sure came in handy.

Some moderate turbulence was encountered en-route, causing a descent from 9,000 feet to 7,000 feet. Apart from this, the remainder of the flight was quite uneventful and we finally touched down at the home airfield at 2:00am. We had the aircraft tied down, tidied up and tucked in by 2:30am.

Both Rob and I were feeling rather weary, but at the same time elated and privileged for being able to help Rebecca and her kids.


The statistics are:
Total time:
1:30pm to 2:30 am = 13:00 hours
Flight time
8:30 hours
Fuel used:
440 litres
Distance covered:
1018 nautical miles, 1832 km, 1600 statute miles
Food consumed:
8 litres of water
6 apples
6 sandwiches
3 milk bottles
Food regurgitated:
1 milk bottle (in world record time of 15secs)
4 (note - this matches the Take-offs!)

Family reaction

On being told by his mother that Uncle Jens was flying his plane today, nephew Alexander (almost 5), replied full of awe: "Is Jens really a pirate?"