Mission 421 - St george to Archerfield and return


On Tuesday and Wednesday, 28th and 29th of June 2005, I flew Angel Flight Mission 421. This was my first "Double Mission", making it my twelfth and thirteenth Angel Flight missions. Until now I had always flown passengers in only one direction on a given mission, while this time I would bring them to Brisbane on one day and take them back home on the next day.

The mission description from Angel Flight was:

A two month old baby from St George has been born with malformed feet.

The boy is required to travel to Brisbane weekly for the next six weeks for gradual manipulation of the feet with plaster.

The transportation requirements for this new mother are onerous, and Angel Flight will help to alleviate the long road trips for her.

Travel time from St George to Brisbane by car is 6 and a half hours (without allowing for extra breaks needed when travelling with a 2 month old baby).

Jed's maiden Angel Flight had been the week before. He flew to Archerfield on the Wednesday and back home on the Thursday. The return leg, taking place in the afternoon, encountered a bit of turbulence, resulting in Jed's mum, Amy, getting more than a little queasy, doing some Pro Hart impressions on the inside of a sick bag.

So the day before I got a call from Terry, the mission coordinator, enquiring whether I could also carry her Uncle Glen so that he could look after Jed, should she have motion sickness again.


The weatherman predicted that it would be one of those days when the IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) charts by which I navigate very accurately depict the countryside that is visible outside; All white, with no discernable ground features.

The forecast was so atrocious that, should I not be able to get visual at St George, the nearest alternate to which I could divert was my point of origin, Archerfield, 2 hours flying away.

On the appointed day I drove out to the airfield and saw that, for once, the weatherman was spot on - lots of low clouds, poor visibility and drizzle. This did not bode well for St George, where the weather was forecast to be even worse.

Outbound leg - Archerfield to St George

Having completed my daily pre-flight inspection in the constant drizzle, I fired up the engine in the middle of a passing shower, waited for the engine to warm up a little and the condensation to disappear from the instruments, for the instrument panel looked like the inside of a shower stall.

The weather being what it was I had to do a Radar One departure out of Archerfield. I got airborne at 8:05 and was in the clouds at 8:06, having climbed less than 500'.

For most of the way I was in solid cloud, but I had tremendous tailwinds pushing the speed up to 180 knots over the ground, great for the way out, but definitely a slow down for the way home.

Occasionally I would be in the clear and sometimes above the clouds in sunshine, producing a shadow of the plane complete with halo (most appropriate on an Angel Flight).

As I approached St George, the ground was again obscured by cloud and I had to conduct an NDB (Non Directional Beacon) approach to find the airfield. Amazingly it did appear where it should and I landed using the straight-in approach to runway 11, keeping the fin in the clouds at some 600' above the deck.

I landed spot on at the agreed time of 10:00.

The nervous passengers

Waiting for me at the extensive air terminal were Amy, Jed and his great uncle Glen.

Amy was not looking forward to the flight, having not so fond memories of the previous flight. While she had no intentions to re-decorate the inside of the aircraft, she knew that she might not resist the urge.

Jed, on seeing the aircraft and what passes for a pilot with Angel Flight, immediately lost control of his bowels, emptying their contents into his nappy.

Glen was looking on in an interested manner, but did not seem to be too perturbed.

So while Amy was busy keeping her mind off flying and on reducing the takeoff weight by changing Jed into a fresh nappy, Glen and I put the luggage and the baby seat into the plane.

Following the customary safety briefing, and with everyone settled in their seat we got going.

Inbound leg - St George to Archerfield

We got airborne right on time at 10:30 and went straight into the clouds. In the (relatively) cool conditions the climb to the planned 7,000' only took ten minutes and we were soon settled into a smooth flight, albeit not a very scenic one.

So Amy need not have worried, for, having a better pilot this time, the flying was smooth most of the way. (It is a well know fact that when the flying is smooth the pilot will always take 100% of the credit, but when it is rough the weather will get 100% of the blame)

Before you knew it both Amy and Jed were fast asleep in the back, while Glen, most interested in things aeronautical, quizzed me constantly as to what the instruments were etc.

Occasionally we would find ourselves between some layers of cloud and, on rare occasions, even in the clear with the odd spot of ground being visible through a hole in the cloud cover below.

At the half way mark the weather got a bit rougher - we were skimming across a layer of building cumulus cloud. So, to keep the decor of the plane unchanged, I descended to 5,000'. While it reduced the turbulence, it also put us into a much greater head wind - we lost 20 knots after the descent.

So plodding along at a mere 120 knots for quite a while, we eventually happened upon Oakey and then Amberly from where we were cleared for an NDB approach into Archerfield. We broke visual about 7 nm out and were instructed to join on final for runway 10L.

A little bump on touch down and a very relieved Amy lost the blue complexion as she started to breathe again.

Youngest Earth Angel?

We pulled up outside the terminal building about 3 minutes after the agreed time to see our Earth Angel Erica Truasheim (on her maiden mission) and her 13 month old son Bryce waiting for us.

Bryce was busy examining the huge steps and trying to figure out how a passenger younger than him could possibly mount them.

I provided the answer to this conundrum by carrying Jed from the plane.

Soon he was in safer hands as Erica took charge, although this puzzled Bryce - "Who is that in my Mummy's arm?"

Glen (visible in the background) and I were doing the manly things of carrying the few bags to the car and installing the baby seat.

Erica was working off the original mission briefing statement, which did not include the last minute ring-in, Amy's uncle Glen. This meant Amy was now faced with the most uncomfortable part of her journey - she had to squeeze between the two baby seats, with Bryce on her left and Jed on her right, while Glen got the front seat - again!

I farewelled the quintet and arranged to meet them at the same spot on the next day.

The return journey

The weathermen had not been busy. On checking the forecast next day, I found that they had merely done a cut and paste job of yesterday's forecast, changing a number here and a number there. This time, though, I could nominate Cunnamulla, 1 hour's flying west of St George, as my alternate.

On arriving at Archerfield, I was faced with a steady downpour and was at times unable to see the other end of the airfield. The ATIS (Airport Terminal Information Service), in an example of true understatement noted that limited visual conditions existed with a few clouds at 600'.

I moved the plane to the terminal building, for I doubted that Erica, Amy or Glen had the wading boots necessary to approach my plane in its usual spot.

Having borrowed an itinerant pilot's umbrella I performed the daily pre-flight inspection while at the same time trying to keep the inside of the plane reasonably dry. Finding the expected two wings, three wheels and a complete tail assembly, I signed the maintenance release and waited for Jed, Amy and Glen.

Erica arrived with her charges right on time. Amy was somewhat bruised in the shoulder area but otherwise quite cheerful. The news from the doctors had been good. Jed's progress was such that, instead of being confined to a cast, he was now sporting some straps.

It was again teeming as I got Glen to help me quickly throw all the gear in the back doors. Glen then headed for the shelter of the terminal building while I slammed the doors behind me and set about tying down the bags and hitching up the baby seat. I then did a contortionist's impression to extricate myself from the now crowded interior of the plane and beckoned my passengers to come on up.

The rain had abated somewhat, but we still piled on as quickly as possible.

Outbound leg - Archerfield to St George

After startup we waited for the shower stall to transform itself into a cockpit, taxied out for the run-ups and then take-off. Like the previous day, we had a radar departure, this time plunging into the cloud less than a minute after take-off.

The flight was very similar to the day before. Most of the time we were in solid clouds with a few breaks here and there. The flying conditions were very smooth, and Amy and Jed spent a bit of time snoozing.

There was one minor hick-up: Having flown west for more than an hour and received progressively lower barometric settings, the altimeter was now indicating 5,920' instead of the flight planned and advertised 6,000'. Normally I would not have worried about this. But Glen queried this glaring lack of airmanship, and, feeling thus chided, I set about correcting the enormous discrepancy of 80' altitude. I disengaged the autopilot, gave the yoke a minor tug, we shot up to 6,000', I gave the yoke a minor prod forward to maintain the new altitude and re-enaged the autopilot. As this was happening we heard a "Whooaaah!!!!" from the back seat as Amy got a reaction from her over sensitive stomach. Luckily the manoeuvre was of too short a duration to have any regurgitative effect.

Before too long, we were descending toward St George and I was once again studying the chart for the NDB approach. However, some 10 miles out we came across a several mile long hole in the clouds which made it possible for me to descend visually, maintaining a nose-bleeding 800' AGL (above ground level) for the last few miles, while the fin was scraping the clouds.

I wheeled the plane in a descending left turn onto runway 11 and Amy started to breathe again. As we emerged from the cabin we were astounded to note that the sun was shining - a rarity of late in the state of Queensland despite the state motto of "Sunny one day, perfect the next" (my personal take on that is "Humid one day, sultry the next")

When Amy asked to have a happy snap taken with the pilot in front of the plane, I realised that Angel Flight had acquired another happy "customer".

Now, however, Jed started complaining. Apparently it had been too long a time between feeds, for, as soon as he got into the car, he greedily started drinking.

Inbound leg - St George to Archerfield

Under the watchful eyes of my erstwhile passengers I started the engine, taxied out and got airborne for the uneventful flight back home, except for the few F111 aircraft stooging around below me somewhere, doing what air services called "abrupt vertical manoeuvres".

Again I spent most of the time in cloud. Occasionally I would glimpse the heavily flooded countryside below. If you look closely at the picture on the left you can see the creeks flooding across the road.

Eventually I commenced an NDB approach into Archerfield, but again at 7 nm out I became visual, landing 1 hour and 40 minutes after taking off from St George.


Over the two days we had


On the second day of this mission record rainfall was recorded in the areas around Brisbane. Some spots received 400mm (that is 15 inches) of rain for the day, resulting in widespread flooding.