by CHRIS GILMORE
As a child, Greg King would make model aircraft and watch the sky as planes flew over. But his dreams of becoming a pilot hit a problem.
“I always wanted to fly … however, knowing that I was classed as being colourblind, I would not be able to fly at night,” he says.
But Greg, 68, never gave up on his dreams and he became Queensland’s longest-serving remote pilot in the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Across nearly 20 years, he helped thousands of people in remote parts of Queensland, flying more than 1.63 million nautical miles and refuelling countless planes at the RFDS base in Mount Isa.
Now, after returning to the Coast in 2019, Greg is combining his flying skills with his love for the Outback, partnering with two other pilots to launch Aviation Tours, providing small-group plane touring holidays around the country.
Originally from Victoria, Greg moved to the Coast in 1979 and ran the successful Caloundra Bait Supplies until 1987. But he says “all I wanted to do was fly an aircraft” and in March 1987 he had his first lesson at Sunshine Coast Air Charter at Caloundra Airport.
“I spent the next two years working studying and training then in 1989 I was given the wonderful opportunity to work for Lester Neideck at Sunshine Coast Air Charter as a flying instructor,” he says.
“The rules (about being colourblind) changed and by mid-1990 I had a night rating. I have now amassed a total of 14,800 hours with 2400 hours of night flying in some of the worst conditions a pilot could wish for.
“CASA told me I would never be able to fly a glass cockpit. I have been doing so, single pilot, for the last 19 years day and night.”
It was 2000 when Greg started working for the RFDS at Mount Isa. He says he only intended to be there two years, but ended up staying for 19.
“I loved the RFDS,” he says. “The work was 110 per cent rewarding. At first I was helping strangers, then after a while helping friends. It was not uncommon to arrive at a property, clinic or small rural hospital and know the person you were picking up.
“One night I picked up an old lady, she said that it was her second time in an aircraft – the other was 50 years earlier and that was RFDS too.
“The work ranged from inter-hospital transfers from outlying hospitals back to Mount Isa, or from Mount Isa through to Townsville; to primary retrievals, landing on a property or small town strip to be first responders for all types accidents – car, aircraft, motorbike, horse, industry, rural, snake bite – through to many and varied medical cases.”
Upon returning to Caloundra, Greg was contacted by one of his past students who was working as an instructor at one of the local schools and asked if he was interested in returning to instructing.
“Was I interested? You bet – playing far too much solitaire!” Greg says.
But when Covid travel restrictions saw thousands of commercial pilots grounded, including Greg, they began planning the new aviation tours venture.
“We began planning the new air touring business and I was asked to be the chief pilot,” Greg says. “So hear we are, about to do our first tour.”
The tours will inject much-needed tourist dollars into remote parts of Australia, which have been hit hard by travel restrictions. Inland stops include Charleville, Longreach, Winton, Roma, Coober Pedy, Broken Hill and Carnarvon Gorge, as well as coastal destinations including the Whitsundays, Great Barrier Reef and Thursday Island.
“Bringing air tours to the Outback will help bridge the gap between the city and the country,” Greg says. “Our guests will help rebuild local economies and increase the understanding of how different life is in remote areas.”
Aviation Tours’ private aircraft accommodates up to eight guests. Tours range from 5-16 days and include all flights, tours and accommodation.
After so many years flying around the Outback, what’s Greg’s favourite spot?
“I really haven’t got a favourite spot, l love it all: the people, the towns, the country – it’s all not to be missed,” he says.
Visit aviationtours.com.au, @aviationtours or facebook.com/aviationtoursaustralia.