There’s more in you than you think, according to Mitch Boyle, a Year 11 student at The Armidale School. He has just completed a solo flight around Australia.
>How long have you been flying, Mitch?
I have wanted to fly from as young as I can remember. In fact, I can remember telling my parents that I wished I was a bird. From about the age of five or six I began joy flights in light aircraft and micro lights. When I was ten I started my flight training in a recreational aircraft. Not being able to solo until I was 15 was a long wait, but on my 15th birthday, after completing all necessary exams, I went solo. Since then I have obtained my full recreational licence and can fly anywhere in Australia. I can take friends for joy flights anytime.
I am now completing my private pilot’s licence and my commercial pilot’s licence through TAS. It is important when you first start to learn to fly to enjoy yourself. And it’s just as important to have good flying instructors.
> What made you want to take on flying around Australia?
I was flicking through an aviation magazine and I noticed an article on the Fly Away to Heaven charity, who were organising a flyathon around Australia to raise money for children in orphanages in East Timor. The story was about the Baguia orphanage, which has fifty boys and girls ranging from 6 to16 years old all housed in two dormitories approximately 4 m x 4 m.
It certainly made me think about the fortunate life I have had so far. We take for granted the way we can walk into a supermarket; if we are not well we can go to the doctor or hospital. Our career possibilities are limited only by our imagination. Did you know none of these children have ever eaten a chocolate frog or ice cream? Reading this I knew there was something I could do to help.
> Tell us about the charity you were raising funds for. How much money was raised by you and the group?
In March 2004, Fr. John Fowles, a priest from Albury, was donated a $70,000 Jabiru kit plane. It took three years to build, during which time Fr. John pursued the idea of flying his plane around Australia for charity. His idea was to invite other pilots to join him in the flight around Australia, raising money for orphanages in East Timor, one of the poorest countries in the world and our nearest neighbour.
Funds raised would go towards new buildings for the orphanages, road maintenance and for new trucks to transport the children on the five hour trip to the city if needed.
The event required each participating pilot to raise $1,000 for charity as the entry to the flyathon, and they would pay their own costs for accommodation and fuel. So I started door knocking, targeting businesses, church groups and schools, and with the help of some great publicity I managed to raise nearly $8,000. The group as a whole, during the flyathon, raised just over $200,000, which was a fantastic effort.
> How many other planes were involved in the flight round Australia?
There were 11 planes that joined Fr. John for the entire trip and a few others for short legs. They were great pilots, and we all got on very well. We usually flew in pairs, so that if something happened we would always have someone close by.
I was paired with Stephan, a German guy who bought his own plane and was endorsed in Australia just for the flyathon. Even though I was the youngest pilot on the trip, none of the other pilots made me feel like a 16-year-old. In fact, one even made a comment that he learnt a lot from me, but actually I think we all learnt a lot from each other.
> Tell us about some of the amazing things you saw from the air.
While I have been fortunate enough to have seen a fair bit of Australia while caravanning with my parents, nothing compares to seeing it from the air. As I left Merimbula to join the start in Albury, flying over the Snowy Mountains was amazing.
The Nullabor seems long and boring when sitting in a car for hours, but when looking at it from above it’s pretty awesome. Perth and the West Coast were beautiful, while the waterfalls in the Kimberleys were spectacular, but I think the most amazing scenery of all was the rainforest coming into the Gold Coast from the west. Also, when we pass over Sydney we fly at 500 feet, under the Sydney airport traffic, just out to sea straight past the cliffs of Sydney Harbour heads. That’s pretty spectacular.
> Did you have any problems on the trip? Having enough fuel to get between stops in remote areas proved to be a problem. I had to find farm airstrips that had fuel in drums for me to refuel. This took a lot of forward planning and phone calls to ensure the availability of fuel.
At one stage I also needed to make a landing at a remote aboriginal community about 100 km south of Broome. This was because I refuelled late and there was not enough daylight to get to Broome. In fact, this turned out to be quite an adventure. After landing I walked the 4.5 km into the community from the airstrip, where I hung over a fence and asked the man in the yard where I could find some accommodation and a pie shop.
He informed me I was in the middle of nowhere with no accommodation or pie shop and he asked how I got there. It turned out he was the school principal. He took me in, gave me a feed (not a pie, but a great curry) and a place to sleep. In the morning I took the principal and another teacher for a joy flight and gave a talk about the fundraising at the school.
I also had to spend four days in Ingham while having maintenance performed on the plane. The other pilots went ahead and I had to catch up.
> What did you get out of this trip, Mitch?
Apart from the incredible flying experience I have made some great life long friendships, met wonderful people who have put me up and fed me, and hopefully I have inspired others to go for it … whatever it may be.
I would like to thank Mum and Dad, my home church, The Uniting Church of Merimbula and all those people who helped make the event such a great success. Finally I would like to thank every one who gave what they could afford to the charity; it will make a huge difference in East Timor. I hope to travel to East Timor in the Christmas holidays to help out and see firsthand the difference we have made.
> Aviation is offered as part of the HSC at TAS. How does that work?
Back in 2002 the NSW Board of Studies introduced subjects from the National Aerospace Curriculum, which gave schools the opportunity to offer aviation studies as part of the HSC. For TAS this was opportune, as a demand existed from our rural based students who were keen to learn to fly. So the school developed a relationship with Armidale Airways, and its Chief Flight Instructor, Stewart Hignett, allowing TAS students to enrol in the Aviation Certificate with New England TAFE as the registered training officer.
The course involves a balance of flight theory, airmanship and practical flight training. The course is part of the student’s academic timetable, and they fly as part of their daily lessons. The school transports students to and from the airport and there are no queues for takeoff.
In Year 10 students begin training for their Private Pilot’s Licence (after their School Certificate) and work towards gaining their Restricted Licence. In Year 11 further theory and practical gives the student their Private Pilot’s Licence and, by the end of Year 12, they can obtain their Commercial Pilot’s Licence (Fixed Wing/Helicopter).
The students accrue 2 units each year towards their HSC and have direct entry into Aviation courses at select universities and TAFE colleges – at Southern Cross Uni there is 50% accreditation into the Bachelor of Aviation and Business course.
In the years since its inception at TAS, the Aviation course has seen some 25 students gain their private pilot’s licence and 10 gain their commercial pilot’s licence. Of the latter, Tom McCarthy has been awarded the University Medal from UNSW for the Bachelor of Aviation (Management), Dan O’Sullivan is flying for Jetstar out of Singapore and Rob McDonald is a jet pilot for a regional airline.
Two other recent TAS Aviation Certificate graduates have gone on to apply their aviation skills in their employment: Kent Honour completed his commercial pilot’s licence with Armidale Airways and is now a Grade 3 Flying Instructor with them and Cameron Brookes is working as a station hand in far North Queensland, where he regularly uses his private pilot’s licence to transport station staff to regional centres.
> Thank you Mitch.
Interested in Aviation, check out the TAS website at www.as.edu.au