Doctors take to the skies in Central Queensland for charity
IN THE AIR: Husband and wife combo Team Fly Docs, Tom Huang and Iris Chen, are exhilarated by the journey they are experiencing in the 2018 Outback Air Race, fundraising for RFDS. PHOTO: TOM HUANG
“I work in Brisbane as well as Broken Hill. Do you want to hazard a guess how I do it?” asks a cheeky, chuckling voice.
Dr Tom Huang takes the idea of being a flying doctor to its extreme, mixing a passion for flight with a vocation to heal. Every fortnight, he balances a roster with the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) at its Broken Hill base, with other medical work in Brisbane.
His commute is in his beloved 1981 Mooney M20J, a single piston four-seater aircraft, covering the 1300km journey in four-and-a-half hours.
“It sure beats driving a car!” Tom laughs.
Tom and his wife, nurse Iris Chen, have spent the past fortnight as Team Fly Doc, taking part in the 2018 Outback Air Race, an important fundraiser for the RFDS.
Rural Weekly caught up with him between race legs four and five, at Adels Grove, in
Tom said it was the first time he had competed in the air race and it was especially meaningful to be involved in the race during the RFDS’s 90th anniversary year.
“I’m very excited. I have heard about this race for a long time,” Tom said.
“I’ve been waiting for this for the past three years and have been doing quite a bit of fundraising. We’ve raised about $9000 for the RFDS.
“We are about a third of the way through the race now, and
just having a blast!”
Iris takes command of logistics and planning, but Tom said he was disappointed he hadn’t been able to bring his trusty co-pilot, Aaron.
“I was going to bring my golden retriever, but unfortunately hotel accommodation doesn’t allow dogs,” he said.
“He’s actually the RFDS chief co-pilot, you can see him on the RFDS Facebook page dressed up as a pilot, very cute. So, no doubt he’s missing a lot of the action here.”
The race follows a route from Brisbane to Broome, taking in locations such as Bundaberg, Longreach, Daly Waters and Katherine, this year has around 100 people across 51 teams, and at the time of writing had raised a massive $463,837 for the RFDS.
The triennial race is 20 years old and has, in that time, raised more than $2 million for the vital outback medical retrieval service.
GPS data determines the race leader-board, with planes taking off in a staggered start.
Tom said the teams had a healthy mix of camaraderie and friendly rivalry along the route.
“There are a few teams that have done the race before, and there are some old animosities, but all in a very friendly spirit,” he said.
Tom and Iris are both grateful to have the opportunity to experience the Australian outback together in this unusual way.
“It’s incredible from this vantage point. At the moment every direction we fly, you just see this vast expanse of landscape.
“All the aircraft have radio contact, but you can’t see anyone else, you just feel like you are the only people out here.
“It’s incredible sights you see, from green scenery to red deserts.”
Tom has been flying for six years, and with the RFDS for
three. Although not a pilot for the RFDS, he enjoys the combination.
“I always wanted to be a pilot when I was little, but unfortunately the busy schedule of being a doctor in a hospital and medical school meant that I didn’t have a chance until I was halfway through my training.
“So I started flying for fun, but now I get to do both as parts of my work.
“I get to meet some of the most competent and dedicated pilots as well as sit in the right-hand seat of a King Air or a PC-12, so definitely the icing on the cake.
“The job itself, from a medical point of view is incredibly satisfying. You get to travel to some of the most remote places, and do good work for the people who live and work in the Outback.
“It gives a nice feeling when I go to work every day.”
Broken Hill base services a land mass covering 640,000sq km, north to Innamincka, south to Mildura and east to Dubbo, delivering patient retrieval and transfer, and offering remote clinics.
“It’s an area almost twice as big as the UK,” he said.
❝You can’t see anyone else, you just feel like you are the only people out here.
— Dr Tom Huang
The 2018 Outback Air Race reaches Longreach at the end of the second leg.
2018 Outback Air Race leg four – Mt Isa to Adels Grove. The view from Tom and Iris’ Mooney M20J aircraft.
FLYING DOCTOR: Husband and wife combo, Team Fly Doc’s Tom Huang and Iris Chen, are exhilarated by the journey they are experiencing in the 2018 Outback Air Race, fundraising for the RFDS.
Take-off on leg four from Mt Isa.