Those magnificent men in their flying machine

Intrepid Rotary pilots Peter Teahen and John Ockenfels touchdown in Queensland as they continue their round-the-globe adventure to raise funds and awareness for the End Polio Now campaign.

By Anne Matthews
D9560 Passport Rotary

he words of this title – from the theme song of the 1965 British comedy of the same name – spring to mind following the adventures of Peter and John on their daredevil Flight to End Polio mission.

As you may recall from the June edition of Rotary Down Under, the two American Rotarians are flying around the world in a small single engine 1977 Cessna, and landed in Cairns on July 3, 2023. This was their 25th landing of the trip, which started in Iowa, US, on May 5, 2023. The combined Rotary clubs of Cairns organised an outstanding fundraiser on July 4 – American Independence Day – to welcome Peter and John to Australia.

PICTURED: The fundraising event was organised by District 9560 Area 2 Governor Rita Zappulla.

Organised by District 9560 Area Governor Rita Zappulla, the event was held in a hangar at Cairns Airport and raised $6,200 for the End Polio Now campaign. Rita was assisted by Rotarians and supporters, including World’s Greatest Meal to End Polio founder and polio survivor Susanne Rea OAM and District Polio Chair Nauman Abbasi.

During the event, John spoke about the challenges of flying around the world in such a small single engine plane – including encountering ice over Egypt. Unfortunately, co-pilot Peter was unable to attend as he was in Cairns Hospital. Peter picked up a bug in India, but has now fully recovered.

From Cairns, John made an unscheduled solo flight to Toowoomba to have a part fitted to the plane. After discharge from Cairns Hospital, Peter took a commercial flight to Toowoomba and both pilots flew to Brisbane on July 14, for an overnight stay. Whilst in Brisbane they met with District 9620 representatives PDG Ros Kelly and polio survivor and District Polio Chair Bruce McNaught.

Brisbane Airport media representative Peter Doherty organised all the official requirements and arranged for Peter and John to see the Southern Cross – the first aircraft to fly across the Pacific 95 years ago. The intrepid pilots were interviewed by Channels 9 and 10 and appeared on their respective evening
news broadcasts.

PICTURED: Jessie Griffin from MiHaven Care, co-event organiser Suzie Pont, Yolonde Entsch, Skytek CEO Alana McKenna who loaned the hangar for the event, Area 2 Governor Rita Zappulla, Travis Hanlon from Hilton Hotels who donated the major prize for the auction and World’s Greatest Meal to End Polio founder and polio survivor Susanne Rea OAM (front)hold up the world map showing the intrepid pilots’ stopover itinerary.

The duo also had an informative discussion with Steve Austin on ABC Radio 612. Steve told the Americans about the Aussie saying, ‘he couldn’t work in an iron lung’, meaning someone was extremely lazy. They hadn’t heard of the saying.

The pilots told Steve about how the journey had become a spiritual one for them due to the opportunity to vaccinate children in Pakistan. They spent a whole day travelling to different sites across the country administering vaccines to children and learning more about the vaccination efforts of Rotary International and UNICEF Pakistan. Rotarians from Karachi and surrounding areas greeted them with open arms at evening events and they met with top officials from the Pakistan Polio Eradication Initiative.

With Peter and John personally paying around US$100,000 to fund the journey, every dollar donated to the Flight to End Polio will go to the End Polio Now campaign. They explained the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s $2 for $1 pledge to the campaign and encouraged listeners to give generously.

That night, Bruce McNaught treated the Americans to something else they had never heard about or experienced – dinner at an RSL club!

“The intrepid pilots were interviewed by Channels 9 and 10 and appeared on their respective evening news broadcasts.”

On Saturday July 15, Peter and John left Australia for the long flight to New Caledonia. Unfortunately, about an hour and a half into the flight they had to return to Brisbane with an alternator problem. They landed safely, then flew on to their trusty mechanic in Toowoomba where they stayed overnight while the repairs took place.

Departing Toowoomba the following morning, they arrived safely in New Caledonia that afternoon The long haul flights to Hawaii, with stopovers in Fiji and Samoa, and then onto California won’t be easy, but as the song says ‘they go up tiddly up up, they go down tiddly down down, they’re all frightfully keen, those magnificent men in their flying machines’.

If you would like to donate you can do so via www.flighttoendpolio.com/donate