It is not every day you see an aircraft outside your classroom window but that was the experience of Ardmona Primary School students when the Royal Flying Doctor Service visited on Wednesday.
While not an actual aircraft itself, the replica of the Pilatus PC12, on a trailer, is used as an education tool for the students to see inside the aircraft, which is key to the service’s ability to save lives in remote towns.
The original replicas were made for training purposes and are fitted out with equipment previously used by doctors and nurses.
The replica comes complete with the beeps of the heart monitor, aircraft sounds and even lets students test their skills on a flight simulator in the cockpit.
RFDS education manager Tom Ryan said it was a hands-on experience for the students who really learned a lot during their visit.
‘‘We teach the students about the history of the RDFS, in particular the story of its founder John Flynn — who is printed on the $20 Australian note — and the geography of Australia through the locations we travel to,’’ Mr Ryan said.
‘‘It’s about raising awareness of what we do and ties into the school curriculum.
‘‘The students also look at the pedal-powered radio used for communication in remote communities.’’
Mr Ryan said the RDFS presence in Victoria had grown in the past seven years, from having 15 staff to 450 with the expansion seeing it offer more primary health care services such as dental, mental health and optic and other non-urgent check-ups.
The RDFS has a fleet of 70 aircraft nationally and offers emergency care and weekly fly-in fly-out clinics to remote towns or communities across 7.3million square kilometres.
The service’s Victorian air base is at Essendon, but it also has dental vans and road ambulances.
RDFS volunteer and retired psychologist Campbell Sinclair, who travels with Mr Ryan, said the aircraft were single-engine and quite small so they could land on short and narrow runways in the bush.
‘‘The pilots have to be quite skilled and fly at all times, while the locals have had to show some innovation in the past to make sure pilots can find the runway at night time,’’ he said.
‘‘I’ve heard in the past the local police officer in the community used burning toilet rolls to mark out the runway for the pilot to land and the doctor saved an injured stockman; and in Smithton, Tasmania, the locals lit the runway up with their vehicle lights to get anti-venom to a man bitten by a snake.’’
Mr Sinclair said often they were approached by someone during their visits to schools who told them they would not be alive if it was not for the service.
‘‘No-one has a bad word to say about the service,’’ he said.
Mr Ryan said they really enjoyed what they did and he remembered the wider community of Invergordon coming out to the service’s past visit to Invergordon Primary School, which became a fundraiser.