Graphic: pilot, Damien Heath
Flying for the Flying Doctor
Damien Heath has been a pilot with RFDS Central Operations since November 2008. He was Senior Base Pilot at RFDS Alice Springs Base for several years and in April 2014 moved to RFDS Adelaide Base where he took over the role of Chief Pilot.
Q: Do RFDS pilots have to undergo regular training in simulators, or do they tend to fly often enough that there is no need for extra training in aircraft? We fly single pilot in Pilatus PC-12 aircraft. Currently all our training is conducted in the aircraft and each pilot is checked on four separate occasions by our specialist training and checking department throughout the year.
Q: Have you ever hit a kangaroo or wallaby while landing on a remote airstrip? How does the RFDS ensure such risks to aircraft are minimised? No, I haven't personally however it does occur from time to time. Any airstrip we operate that has a kangaroo/animal hazard we get inspected from the ground just prior to landing. We also encounter cattle, camels and donkeys on a regular basis.
Q: What level of knowledge do RFDS pilots hold about the patient in the back of the aircraft? Are you aware of how critically injured patients are, or are you not informed in case such knowledge affects your decision to fly? As a general rule, the pilot is not informed of the patient condition, however working in such a small team and remote locations it's difficult for the pilot not to get some idea of the patient condition for the return flight. We work very hard as an organisation to remove as much pressure from the pilots as possible in this regard. Safety of the operating crew and aircraft must always come first.
Q: What's your favourite aircraft to fly and why? For aeromedical operations I couldn't go past the PC12/47. It has great short field performance whilst also being pressurised and will comfortably cruise at 250kts. It has a large back door for ease of loading patients, and a very useful operational range that is unmatched by its rivals. We can attend to a patient on a cattle station over an hours flying from home base in Alice Springs and if needed, can then transport that patient directly to a capital city hospital over 750 km away without the need to stop for fuel. This is the real standout feature of the PC-12. Outside of aeromedical operations I couldn't go past a Cessna 185 floatplane for pure fun!
Q: What do you enjoy most about your role? The variety, being involved in all levels of the organisation, from attending strategic operational meetings with the CEO and General Managers, through to being a pilot on the line, flying the aircraft to remote locations helping the isolated people of Australia that the organisation was set up to help.