May 1, 2012
By Dave Hirschman
At a time when doctors making house calls in the United States has pretty much been relegated to history, flying physician Dave Baldwin uses his airplane to cover an entire country. The irrepressible former Royal New Zealand Air Force flight surgeon flies his own Cessna 172 XP from his home on the North Island throughout the rugged and remote South Island, performing aviation medical exams for pilots who would otherwise have to spend a full day driving to a traditional medical office.
“The advantages to pilots include cost savings and less travel time,” says Baldwin, whose IFR airplane carries a fantastical paint scheme of his own design. “The advantages to me are simple: following the dream of combining my medical profession with flying in the most beautiful parts of the world.”
Baldwin, 54, has expanded his 22-year-old aviation practice to include more than 1,800 pilot patients—about 20 percent of New Zealand’s entire pilot population. And he describes them in glowing terms. “They are some of the greatest pilots in the world, especially when it comes to remote and mountainous flying. It’s a privilege to know them.”
Baldwin’s father was a Royal Air Force pilot, and his son, Marc, and daughters, Anna and Niki, work in his practice. Marc, a helicopter pilot, accompanies Baldwin on work trips in which they visit 22 of the island country’s airports. Daughters Anna and Niki help manage his practice in Bulls, a small town on the North Island near the Ohakea air force base, where he once served as a military flight surgeon.
Baldwin’s aviation medical office at Palmerston North International Airport is a hangar building, which is home to his Cessna. Pilots are encouraged to fly in for flight physicals. Baldwin does his best to make them feel comfortable there as his offices are filled with aviation paraphernalia, and flying videos are shown in waiting rooms.
Baldwin wrote a series of medical columns for Pacific Wings and later turned them into a self-published book of plain-spoken truisms that tell pilots how to avoid health maladies that can end their flying careers, or worse. Healthy Bastards was rewritten, aimed at a larger audience, and enjoyed a great deal of commercial success. In the book, as well as a DVD, and his daily medical practice, Baldwin dispenses common-sense advice for “regular blokes.”
Baldwin has logged several thousand hours above some of the world’s most scenic places—and he prizes both flying and practicing medicine.
“I’ve always been passionate about flying,” he says. “And practicing medicine is a bloody gift. Combining two of my favorite things in life—and having my family work with me—is an absolute dream.”
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Dave Hirschman joined AOPA in 2008. He has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates. Dave flies vintage, historical, and Experimental airplanes and specializes in tailwheel and aerobatic instruction.
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