RFDS pilot Nick Tully

Graphic: RFDS pilot Nick Tully

Bright idea puts safety first for Flying Doctor night landings

Date published

11 Nov 2020

Royal Flying Doctor Service (Queensland Section) (RFDS) pilots have gone back to basics to ensure remote and private airstrips are adequately lit for night landings.

RFDS Charleville Senior Base Pilot Nick Tully, along with RFDS Flight Standards Manager Warren Schmidt, have developed simple, specially made kerosene lantern kits to light remote, private airstrips.

The idea, according to Mr Tully, is to produce cost-effective, high-visibility kits of RFDS branded lanterns made readily available to remote property owners through the Flying Doctor.

The lighting kits are now in the development process thanks to funding made available to Mr Tully through the Gavin Simpson Bursary Innovation Award. The bursary is awarded to RFDS staff with the intention of developing an innovative training, education or improvement project that will benefit the outcomes for RFDS patients.

RFDS Kerosene lanterns prototype

“The idea came from a retrieval we did out near Betoota last year,” Mr Tully said. “The property owner had portable lights; however, the batteries weren’t being replaced regularly so when we were flying in to carry out a retrieval, they were being caught short at a really critical time.”

Mr Tully said the visibility of kerosene lanterns was significantly better than solar lights, which can appear quite dim from above. By comparison, kerosene lanterns can be seen up to 30 miles away.

Another benefit is the drastic reduction in cost of the RFDS lantern kits for remote property owners compared to solar lights.

“We’ve looked at quotes to light a 1,000-metre airstrip with solar lights, and you can be looking at up to $26,000,” Mr Tully said. “Plus, the upkeep of batteries and general maintenance on the lights can be another $3,000 to $5,000 every five years or so.

“That’s a lot of money for something that might only be used once every five to 10 years. Our kits are likely to be closer to $600 to $800.”

The kits will include 25 lights — 10 for each side of the runway, two at the end of the strip and one spare — as well as instructions on how to light the lanterns and safely light the airstrip. The lanterns also require near zero maintenance and require only a match and fuel to operate, both of which are staples at nearly every outback property.

The RFDS light kits are currently in the final stages of development, with some simple testing still to be carried out.

“These lanterns are something that's been historically tried and tested,” Mr Tully said.

“Our current prototypes just need to go through some basic testing in different weather conditions, and then depending on demand we should be able to sell them directly through our bases or on our RFDS field days.”