Cornelius Mitchley transports patients and medical staff all over Australia’s south-west region in a PC-12.
Interview by Yayeri van Baarsen
12 May 2021
As a child, my grandfather took me to aviation museums, airshows and showed me the old Tiger Moth he’d restored with his mate. These visits were inspirational. Aged 17, I was awarded two hours flight training in a C172. I was hooked straight away. I got a job at the local flying school, saving enough money for a lesson every few weeks.
I’m the Royal Flying Doctor Service’s senior base pilot at Jandakot. We cover Australia’s south-west region, providing 24/7 emergency retrievals and patient transfers. There are no scheduled flights. After a call out, we check weather, Notams and depart to the patient within an hour. A typical day consists of many short flights, transferring eight to nine patients with in total between two and eight hours of stick time.
“You have to be able to adapt to the ever-changing requirements”
The PC-12 is essentially a flying intensive care unit. It’s like having a hospital ward in the back of the aircraft. We always mind the patient’s condition. If they have a collapsed lung, for example, we fly at lower altitude because of cabin pressure and when flying patients with spinal damage we take extra care to avoid turbulence. Most flights are non-life-threatening transfers between hospitals. However, we also have full-blown emergencies. In those cases, it’s important not to get too involved in what’s happening in the back, but instead stay focused on piloting the aircraft.
What I love most about my job is definitely the unknown aspect, never knowing where or when your next task is. I also really enjoy the variety of airstrips. We fly into 3,000m sealed military bases and international airports, but also into 900m gravel strips.
As an RFDS pilot, you’re operating in a single pilot environment. Therefore you have to be able to adapt to the ever-changing requirements, such as inflight emergencies. Thinking outside the box is needed in order to get to the patient in the most time-efficient manner. It’s more than just flying – I also unload stretchers and liaise with the medical staff. We’re a small team, so good communication skills are required. RFDS makes a huge difference, which makes my work very rewarding. It’s actually hard to call it a job – it’s more of a passion.
In 2008 I applied for an ATPL cadetship with Sharp Airlines and ended up working for them as a First Officer on the Metroliner for a year. After moving to western Australia in 2010, I transferred miners and transported freight on a single pilot Metroliner. In 2015, I joined the RFDS with a CPL. All company conversion training is conducted in aircraft and apart from flying the PC-12, you also learn about communication with crew and patients.
A training flight when I started with the RFDS called ‘limited flare path’. This sortie, which is done at night, is a blackhole approach, with only six runway lights on the 1,000m strip. It’s to simulate landing on a road, when a patient needs immediate medical attention and there’s no other option to reach them in time.
Anything short and gravel. As long as the runway is maintained, I love bush airstrips. The western Australian landscape is diverse, with rainforests to the south and red dirt to the north, all within less than an hour’s flight. A lot of the 1,700 strips in our database are in remote communities – at times we’ve to call the airstrip operator or police before landing to clear the runway of animals!
No, I don’t. The work roster is busy, so on days off I ride my Harley Davidson or spend time at home with my fiancé and our dogs.
Savour the moments in the air. As pilots, we get caught up in ‘work’ pressures. It’s vital to take a breath when up there; look out the window and remember you have the best office in the world!
Senior base pilot Cornelius Mitchley delivers emergency services as well as inter-hospital transfers for Australia’s Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS).
|Started current job||December 2015|
|Now flying||Pilatus PC-12|
|Favourite aircraft||Fairchild Metroliner. “It’s traditional flying. I love flying it single pilot, being alone in this high-performance aircraft.”|
|Hours at job start||Approx. 3,100|
|Hours now||Approx. 6,000|