This New Flying Ambulance Service Provided a “Mantle of Safety” to Those Living in the Australian Outback

May 15, 1928

The pioneering non-profit Australian Inland Mission (AIM) Aerial Medical Service was established in the town of Cloncurry in Queensland, Australia. Reverend John Flynn, a Presbyterian minister, launched this use of aircraft as ambulances in the Australian Outback as a “mantle of safety” for those living in remote, underserved areas and lacking ready transportation access to medical facilities in emergency situations.

Reverend John Flynn [c.1929]
Flynn’s idea was to make it possible to have people in urgent need of medical attention in those regions flown long distances to hospitals or other health-care facilities for treatment. The use of “air ambulances” originated more than a decade earlier in Europe during World War I when planes were sometimes deployed to evacuate wounded soldiers from the battlefield and take them to hospitals. The first civilian uses of that type of aeromedical service were done on a piecemeal basis in not only Australia but such other places as Canada and the Scandinavian countries where isolated communities were likewise hard-pressed for consistently reliable ambulance transportation in major medical crises.

AIM Aerial Medical Service, now the Royal Flying Doctor Service, was the first official and full-time air ambulance system. Flynn’s supporters for the new Australia-based service included aviator Hudson Fysh, who helped establish the airline Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services (Qantas) in 1920.

Qantas provided the new air ambulance service with its first plane, a de Havilland DH.50 that was known as Victory. This plane, which could accommodate up to five people, made what would be AIM Aerial Medical Service’s first official flight just two days after the organization was established. The maiden flight was piloted by Arthur Affleck, who traveled 85 miles (136.8 kilometers) from Cloncurry to the Queensland town of Julia Creek. Over the next few decades, similar aeromedical services were established throughout the world.

Additional information on the origins of the Australian Inland Mission Aerial Medical Service is available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Flying_Doctor_Service_of_Australia.

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