Guiding Lights: RFDS Launch Appeal to Improve Landing Conditions

Last edited: 3 July 2023, 2:58pm

Landing a plane in the middle of the night on a rough, graded, outback airstrip, hours from anywhere, is a challenge for almost any pilot.

Seeing the airstrip by following burning, diesel-soaked toilet rolls really highlights how skilful Royal Flying Doctor Service pilots truly are.

But what if there was a way to make it easier and safer for pilots to see where they’re landing?

There is and you can be a part of it.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service (Queensland Section) has launched the Guiding Lights Appeal, a chance to contribute to the provision of life saving emergency equipment such as airstrip lantern kits and medical chests, to regional and remote communities.

Heidi Mackenzie and her Children

Mother-of-three Heidi Mackenzie knows only too well how important a medical chest and lantern kit can be in a crisis and has had to light an emergency runway using toilet rolls to help the RFDS land at her Plevna Downs sheep and cattle station, 170km east of Quilpie.

Heidi assisted with an emergency retrieval in 2021 when a staff member was involved in a serious motorcycle accident, and on a separate occasion, was also airlifted out herself with her 12-day-old baby.

“The lanterns are much easier to use as it takes one step out of the process when you are under pressure,” Mrs Mackenzie said.

“Toilet rolls only last an hour or so, but the lanterns can stay lit for up to 24 hours which gives everyone more time to get the patient stable and transported safely for take-off without having to relight the airstrip.

Cindy Banks and her Family

Cindy Banks recently received an RFDS Lantern Kit on their property at Tilbooroo Station, 135km northwest of Cunnamulla.

“I think it’s almost inevitable that when you have kids, that something is going to happen, and for some reason, things always happen at night,” Mrs Banks said.

“We nearly had to have our two-year-old daughter flown out at night, and the whole logistics of which airstrip we were going to use and how we were going to light it up was stressful."

Across Queensland, there are around 1200 airstrips currently registered with the RFDS, many of which are still lit by unreliable battery-powered LED lights or diesel-drenched toilet rolls.

That’s why RFDS Senior Pilot Nick Tully shared his bright idea – diesel-lit lanterns.

A diesel-powered airstrip lantern

“The idea was born a few years ago after an emergency retrieval near Betoota, where several of the battery-powered LED lights used on the airstrip failed,” Mr Tully said.

“Station owners were struggling to keep the LED lights maintained, and of course, as soon as you forget about them, that’s when you need them, and they don’t work.

“After some research, we decided to go back to sets of kerosene lights which is where the RFDS Lantern Kits came from.

“We figured if we could offer diesel lights, there’s always diesel and a match on a property.”

The specialised diesel lanterns can be used by station owners to manually light a 1200m runway for pilots to land and take off safely.

A complete airstrip lighting kit

The lanterns are supplied in kits with easy-to-follow instructions and include a list of common questions the RFDS pilot might ask before and after landing.

To help ensure remote communities are prepared for the unexpected, RFDS are calling for the kind spirit of the community to make a donation.

For as little as $49, you can help light the way for these life saving flights.

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