Mission 194 - Archerfield to Roma


On Thursday the 14th of October 2004 I flew Mission 194, making it my 5th Angel Flight.

The mission description from Angel Flight was:


Thirteen year old Roma boy, Craig McKnight, has Metabolic Disorder with a complex multiple physical condition.

This trip to Brisbane is to visit specialists to monitor and investigate these various issues. Craig is in a collapsible wheelchair and will be carried onto the aircraft. The family are on a disability pension and car/bus travel is not a suitable option.

On Tuesday the 12th of October 2004, the following article appeared in Brisbane's Courier Mail news paper: Courier Mail 12th of October - Family borne on the wings of an angel

This article, while being comprehensive, only told half of the story; Craig and his parents still needed to be transported back to Roma following their visits to the specialists.


The day after the McKnights arrived in Brisbane, I received a frantic call from Bill Bristow who had acted as Earth Angel on the arriving flight. Bill was astounded by the amount of luggage, in particular Craig's wheelchair, that he had to transport in his car. His amazement probably stems from the limited luggage capacity of his inferior Piper Malibu. By his own admission, the Malibu was designed for "executive transport with the luggage compartment being the exact dimensions of a golf bag".

Bill's Malibu is famously registered VH-NGG, short for Not Gonna Go - a reference to the fact that he pulled out from Mission 98, leaving me to fill the gap. And had Bill flown that mission, he would have realised that Rebecca with the twins carried a LOT more gear. To be fair; Bill has carried Rebecca on previous occasions, but then she was still shy about how much to take.

So Bill strongly urged me to carefully consider the load factors. Seeing that John Raby and I fly an identical aircraft (Beechcraft Bonanza 36), and the luggage seemed to have fitted in on the way to Archerfield, I reasoned that it should also fit in on the way back. Nonetheless I consulted John and we readily agreed that a real aircraft with double luggage doors and designed for freight hauling, would not have any problems.

Similarly a calculation of weight and balance also showed that things should be in order with the aircraft being below its maximum takeoff weight.

Getting ready

Click for hi-res (300 KB) picture Click for hi-res (300 KB) picture I turned up early to get the aeroplane preflighted, the tires pumped up and have it parked close to the fence so that the passengers could easily get on-board without having to traipse across the tarmac.

Talkative Earth Angel Peter Riachi deposited his charges at 9:30 in the morning right on time.

Craig's dad, Graham, settled Craig in the back row of seats with Craig being installed on his booster seat.

Click for hi-res (300 KB) picture In the mean-time I was contemplating how to prove Bill wrong and fit the luggage on board.

Should the big bag go in first, or the little one?
And what about the footrest of the wheelchair?

Hmmm, doesn't fit.

Ok, let's take it out again and try this ...

Click for hi-res (300 KB) picture Click for hi-res (300 KB) picture After a bit of juggling and straining my back, while an amused Leonie merely looked on, I finally succeeded.

So executive or not - the Bonanza looked like it would do the trick. The only question remaining was whether it would lift off before the end of the runway.

Click for hi-res (300 KB) picture Click for hi-res (300 KB) picture With Craig and Graham firmly ensconsonced in their seat and Leonie looking on from the outside, I went through the passenger safety briefing.

This briefing is a legal requirement with the aim of providing the hapless passengers with some clues as to how to escape the aircraft and the possibility of being chopped up by a rotating propeller, should I botch things up.

Leonie, sitting next to me, also needed to be warned that, tempting as it may be, Amelia Earhart impressions would not be appreciated and she better keep her hands off the controls.

Getting going

Click for hi-res (300 KB) picture We started up on time at 10:00am and taxied out to make a the customary noise in the run-up bay prior to takeoff.

Archerfield tower and air traffic control were most obliging; On departure we got to take off from the closest runway, instead of the 'duty runway', saving another 5 minutes of taxi in the building heat, and when airborne and inside the Amberly control zone, we were cleared directly to Roma.

The climb to the 10,000 foot cruising altitude took a bit longer than usual, due to the warm weather and the near maximum take-off weight, but when finally established proved to be a very smooth flight.

Craig slept most of the way while Graham, Leonie and I chatted. It transpired that Graham, some 30 years earlier, had known my aircraft, VH-FWL, as it was then based in Roma, albeit still in its bright yellow 'Flying Banana' colour scheme.

The descent into Roma and arrival there one and a half hours later were almost uneventful; There was a landing involved.

Once there, the McKnight family were met by their bus and were soon on their way home.

Return flight

Click for hi-res (300 KB) picture I gave the engine its customary half hour cooling down period before heading back to Archerfield, while contemplating what the flying banana would have looked like.

This time, with 110 litres of AvGas out of the tanks and only one person on board, the plane climbed like an home sick angel, which was just as well, as the heat of the day had built up considerably and the thermals were tossing the plane around at altitudes below about 7,000 foot.

I was back on the ground in Archerfield after having

All and all, a most satisfying and successful mission.