Mission 366 - Archerfield to Mitchell


On Sunday the 12th of June 2005 I flew Mission 366, making it my 11th Angel Flight.

The mission description from Angel Flight was:

An eight year old boy who lives in Mitchell, needs to travel to the Royal Children's Hospital in Brisbane for medical assessment and treatment. He has Spina Bifida and Epilepsy.

Travel by car has been long and tiring, and an Angel flight will be a welcome relief for the family. Both mum and sister will accompany the boy, and a collapsible wheelchair will be included on the flight.

Braedy, his four year old sister Meg and mum Rebecca were safely conveyed from Mitchell to Archerfield on the 7th of June by Angel Flight pilot Peter Driver in his Cessna 180.

It was my job to somehow get them back to Mitchell.

Appearances can be deceiving

I arrived early at Archerfield to preflight the aircraft, install the headsets, grab the correct maps and position the aircraft outside agreed meeting spot, the terminal building at Archerfield airport.

Here I waited for my charges to turn up, but had not seen them by the appointed time. About 5 minutes late, Rebecca appeared with Meg on her arm in the terminal building looking for me. It turns out that they had been waiting for me for the last 10 minutes at the picnic table outside the terminal building, while I was pacing up and down inside.

FWL, my Beechcraft Bonanza was clearly visible in her blue and white paint scheme about 10m to their right. So when Braedy expressed his keen desire to fly in "the blue plane", I was only too pleased to point at her and say that she would convey him to to Mitchell today. But Braedy got a bit agitated and began gesticulating to the left and pointing at a Cessna 150 two seater training aircraft, also in white and blue livery, which he clearly considered to be the steed for our mission today.

My ego thus deflated and FWL's wings now sagging a little, I had to work hard to convince him that the Cessna would be a very tight squeeze indeed; I would have difficulty enough folding my 198cm (6'6") frame into the cockpit, let alone an additional 3 passengers, a wheelchair and large travel bag.

After he was finally won over we proceeded to install him and Meg on the back seats and then put the wheelchair and the bag into the luggage compartment.

I gave Rebecca the safety briefing, fired up the engine and did the requisite radio calls, advising Flight Service of our intention to depart and receiving a transponder code in return. In order to save a bit of taxi time, I also contacted the tower and obtained permission for a non standard departure off runway right with a (9 degree) left turn after take off.

Having made the customary noises in the run-up bay we then proceeded to the holding point where the following exchanges took place on the radio:

FWL: "Archer tower, this is Foxtrot Whiskey Lima - Ready runway right for a left turn."
TWR: "Foxtrot Whiskey Lima - Runway left, clear for take off."
FWL: "Aah, eehm, We are at the hold on runway right - Foxtrot Whiskey Lima"
TWR: "Foxtrot Whiskey Lima - No! That is runway left!"

At this stage I was holding my hands in front of me, palms down, confirming left vs right by determining that the thumb of the left hand is on the right and the thumb of the right hand is on the left. Also looking at the large letters painted on the runway right (pardon the pun) in front of me, 28R, seemed to confirm that I was doing the right (pardon the pun again) thing.

TWR: "Foxtrot Whiskey Lima - Confirm that you are a yellow Bonanza"
FWL: "Negative. We are white and blue - Foxtrot Whiskey Lima"
TWR: "Foxtrot Whiskey Lima - Oh!"

I glanced across to the other runway, and right between me and the tower was a yellow Bonanza, not yet in radio contact, lined up at the holding point for runway left.

TWR: "Foxtrot Whiskey Lima - Clear for immediate take-off runway right - left turn approved."
FWL: "Clear for take-off runway right, left turn - Foxtrot Whiskey Lima."

All of this seemed to have confused the pilot of the other Bonanza:

Yellow Bonanza: "Archer tower, this is Yellow Bonanza - ready runway left for a westerly departure."
TWR: "Yellow Bonanza - do you have a call sign?"

In the meantime I completed the usual line-up checks:

And we got away from what passes for a control zone in Queensland at 5 past 10 .

Outbound trip

When Meg had first seen the headsets in the back seat, she informed me authoritatively "But, we don't like wearing these all of the time!". This was just as well, for soon into the journey Rebecca and I faintly heard the noises only too familiar to any travelling parent: Bickering over one thing or other on the back seat. With just Rebecca and I wearing muffling headsets and the kids having none, and thus no microphone to transmit this bickering up front, it was easy to ignore.

Meg soon fell asleep, while Braedy would eagerly delve into my jar of jelly beans every time I passed it back.

This time, having now flown the route a number of times, I was able to point to Dalby without calling it Toowoomba, identify Oakey with some confidence (the NDB, VOR and GPS confirming this position) and even identify some other hamlets along the way.

The weather forecast had been for a fair bit of showers and low level clouds. This would have made arrival into Mitchell a little difficult as it does not have any radio aids. However, a look outside the windscreen only confirmed my suspicions about the folks at the Bureau of Meteorology; They are not paid for accuracy but by the number of clouds they predict.

So, scooting along at 6,000' under a broken layer of cloud, with the occasional rain shower briefly obscuring our vision, we headed West with the weather steadily improving. By the time we got to Roma, with 40nm to run, we only had a smattering of cloud ahead, and things looked very positive.

With the inaccuracies in the forecast head wind canceling out the errors in my flight planning, we miraculously arrived right on time, at 12:15 at Mitchell. As I was circling down, with the engine noise vastly reduced, Rebecca and I again heard very familiar voices: At 500': "When are we going to land, Mum?" - "We are just landing now, Braedy." At 400': "Are we going to land soon?" - "Yes we are just about to land". At 300': "But are we there yet?" ....

I affected a landing of sorts and we taxied up to the terminal building where Rebecca's dad was waiting for us.

We quickly transferred the bag, the wheelchair and the two kids into the car. Rebecca again thanked me, saying: "If we had been driving, we would only be in Toowoomba by now" (leaving another 7 hours of driving ahead).

Trip back home

I had to go into the air-freight business on the way back; Peter Driver, having arrived at Mitchell on the Tuesday had difficulty fitting the wheelchair and bag into the back of his plane - he had to heft it all over the back seat as the luggage compartment door is too small. Not only this, he could only fit it all onboard by jettisoning his step ladder (something you need for refueling high wing aircraft like the Cessna 180). Seeing that Peter is based in Brisbane it made sense to take the step ladder back there with me.

Under the watchful eyes of my passengers, who, having suffered my flying skills first hand, were keen to see the spectacle of my take-off from the safety of their car some distance from the runway, I started up the engine (finally fixed and capable of a hot start thanks to Rapair Pty Ltd, who now maintain the aircraft), taxied out and farewelled Mitchell in a climbing left turn.

Having shed some 200kg (passengers + luggage + fuel) climbout was very spirited and I was soon cruising at 9,000' with a 20 knot tailwind. This got me back into Archerfield at 14:17.


The flight: