(This is a summary written by Hamish who's a Hartwig Air student currently completing his instructor rating about the weekly mailrun Hartwig Air operates from Port Augusta, South Australia to Birdsville, Queensland.)
A few weeks ago I expressed interest in going on the mail run as it is mentioned to students that there
may be times where there is room on the plane to go for a look, I was lucky enough to hear back a
couple of days later and was able to go that week. To put the mail run into perspective it departs from
Parafield and weaves its way (stopping at various airports and outback stations) to Birdsville in QLD,
where it stops overnight, then weaving back to Parafield the next day.
I received a call on the Tuesday night, asking if I was free over the next two days, clearing my schedule I
found myself at Parafield at 6 am the next morning. I was excited, as it was my first time in the Chieftain
and I was about to see some new places, as well as get some exposure to IFR (Instrument Flight Rules)
operations. The Pilots were Chris Pfitzner and Ollie Parham, Chris being Hartwig's Chief Pilot and Pilot in
command, with Ollie gaining some valuable time/experience with IFR and twin engine operations.
We departed and headed for our first stop at Port Augusta, somewhere I had been before in my training flights. Intently listening to the different style of radio calls Chris and Ollie were making, the different style of entry to the aerodrome and other considerations that don’t come up in VFR (Visual Flight Rules).
After a quick stop, changing out some mail and freight we departed to Innaminka via Moomba, we stopped at Innaminka for a little bit while we sorted the various freight and I got to meet some really nice people, getting a small glimpse into their lives. After sorting out what needed to be dropped off, and what needed to be loaded on we got ready to start up. Just before start up I spotted a Land Rover approaching us, at a fair speed, beeping the horn. We waited a moment and as it turned out it was an older gentleman that wanted a hand written postcard delivered to a relative. He was super grateful we waited. After departing and dropping some mail at a station we arrived at Birdsville, refueled, dropping Ollie off (he was flying another aircraft back to Williams Creek that evening) and then visiting one more station before returning to Birdsville for the night.
Parking the plane across the road from the Birdsville hotel and seeing the iconic pub for the first time was great, I’d planned to drive up in my 4x4 years ago but never got the opportunity, now I had just flown here! The people in the pub were very friendly, both patrons and staff. Chris, being a regular, knew a few people and it was great to be introduced to them. After a nice meal and a couple of drinks with the locals bed was calling, we had a reasonably early start planned for the next day.
After helping Chris with preflight checks in the morning we ducked over to the bakery to grab something for lunch on the way back, then we were off! There was a lot of stations to stop at, perhaps the most memorable one was Cowarie station, having a shed very close to the landing threshold of the runway which makes for an interesting approach! The people here were really nice, a woman and her two children came out to meet us at the side of the runway, the kids were so excited to see Chris and the plane – a bit of excitement for the week!
Making our way back to Leigh Creek via a few stations we picked up one of the Gulfstream maintenance guys, Ben, he had done a favor for another company and ran their plane up to Wilpena pound after a service. Continuing back to Parafield via Port Augusta.
To sum up I would say the experience is both fun and valuable, providing a good look at IFR and an actual charter operation while getting to see some fantastic sights and meet some great people! It is also worth mentioning I noticed it isn’t only a mail service, but also gives some of the people on outback stations a chance to get some contact time with someone from the outside world which I think is great.
I think it’s brilliant that Hartwig can provide opportunities like this, as unlike many other flight schools they also have a charter side and a maintenance side. This can provide students with extremely valuable opportunities that they will likely not get elsewhere, like the mail run or currently COVID test runs, maintenance training, or even a chance at employment on operations such as shark watch. These unique opportunities coupled with the instructors and staff (and the genuine interest they have in each individual students training) are why I am really glad I made the move to complete my flying training here at Hartwig.