FLY­ING TEAM

Doc­tors take to the skies in Cen­tral Queens­land for char­ity

Central and North Rural Weekly - - FRONT PAGE - KIRILI LAMB kirili.lamb@ru­ral­weekly.com.au

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

north­west­ern Queens­land.

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.

PHO­TOS: TOM HUANG

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.

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