A world first: the Turner Twins fly the outback

Flying a paramotor to Australia's most inaccessible point? No big deal for these twins.
Hugo and Ross Turner © The Turner Twins
By Oliver Pelling

This week, two ballsy British twins will set off on world-first paramotor expedition to Australia’s Red Pole of inaccessibility. It’s a journey they expect will take them around three weeks, during which time they’ll cover some 1600km. Adventurers have journeyed to the pole before, but never by paramotor.

“[The pole] is the furthest inland point you can reach before you start heading back to the coast,” Hugo Turner tells me over the phone the day before he and his brother, Ross, are set to head out. “We can’t find any pictures of the pole from anyone who’s been there, so to be able to explore this place for ourselves is going to be awesome.”

Having made something of a name for themselves with their expeditions to date (which have been focused on raising money for not-for-profit spinal cord research foundation, Wings for Life), the self-proclaimed ‘adventure guinea pigs’ were in good spirits when Hugo called Red Bull yesterday from Adelaide, where they’re making the final preparations for their adventure.

A gyrocopter (for practice) © The Turner Twins

Hugo – tell me a bit about what you and your brother do.
We’re adventurers…in a loose way. We go off on expeditions, probably one every year or 18 months. Through that we have a handful of sponsors that back us and receive the content we produce.

Where did the idea for the Red Pole Expedition come from?
Breitling is a major sponsor of ours and obviously they’re an aviation brand. Through them, we went and gave a talk to Parajet, who are the manufacturers of paramotors – the aircraft we’re using on this trip – and they were just a very enthusiastic and passionate bunch of people. They told us that you don’t need pilot’s license to drive a paramotor, you just need a lot of training.

You have to have really calm weather conditions to actually fly them, and we thought the Australian outback would provide the perfect weather for flying. The outback is incredibly remote. So journeying where nobody’s ever gone on a paramotor…we just thought it’d be a great way to see Australia from a perspective that few people get to see.

Do you have a route charted? Are you stopping and camping? Is there a car following you?
So there are three of us here in Adelaide at the moment. It’s us and our guide, Kester Haynes, who’s also our paramotor instructor. He’ll be flying with us as well as driving the support vehicle. We have a Toyota wagon loaded with swags, water, fuel, comms and electronics.

Paramotoring lessons in the British countryside © The Turner Twins

We’ll be starting from Port Augusta and heading up to Marree on the Stuart Highway, then veering off right to the Oodnadatta Track, then up through William Creek, on to Alice Springs, then north or northwest to the pole, which is a couple of hundred kilometres from Alice. We’ve got three weeks to do it, so that should be plenty of time. Who knows what will happen?

What are you most excited about?
It’s got to be the sense of scale when we get in the air. When we’re in the true outback and it’s so flat you can see to the horizon. Even down here in Adelaide, the scale of the country is incredible compared to the UK. We were flying a gyrocopter yesterday around the harbour, and the size of the country is just phenomenal. Getting into the remote outback is just going to be stunning. Have you been up there?

The twins and their guide, Kester, in Adelaide © The Turner Twins

I’ve been to Uluru and up the Cape York Peninsula. You can’t imagine that these places could be in the same country as cities like Adelaide of Melbourne – they’re just so different
We’re trying to process that now. It’s so lush and green down here and pretty bloody cold. And in two days’ time we’ll be in the boiling hot desert.

Had you ever slept in the swag before?
No, I’ve slept in a sleeping bag and a bivvy in the UK, but not a swag. My elder cousin lived in Victoria Creek, just north of Melbourne, for 10 years. She brought swags back to the UK so that’s when we first saw them. They’re just such a great concept. We’ve been sleeping in them since Friday and they’re bloody brilliant, I’ve gotta tell you.

It’s one of the quintessential Australian experiences, sleeping in a swag.
Yeah. I’m just worried a bloody brown snake is going to think my sleeping bag is nice and cosy and try and crawl in.

Sending kit to Australia © The Turner Twins

That’s always a worry. Did you say you guys had flown a paramotor prior to planning this trip?
No – we learned for this expedition. We’ve had about six months of training.

What’s it like?
It’s been a crash course, literally. We first went up last year in a tandem. In terms of a form of flying, it’s something we’ve always wanted to do. In the UK anyway, you don’t need any license to fly them, so it’s just a really easy and affordable way to go flying.

The training’s been amazing. It’s been quite nerve-wracking - the first solo flight especially. But it’s great fun. You’ve got to have a go. It’s very free. There are no geographical boundaries – you don’t have to follow roads or hedges. You have to avoid the odd tree, but otherwise, where you can see is where you can go. There’s nothing to stop you.

Practicing flying with a paraglider © The Turner Twins

What kind of altitude will you sit at for this trip?
Depending on terrain, anywhere between 500-1000 feet I should think. I’m sure there’ll be times when we want to go higher, but then you risk losing visibility and some of the detail. Obviously the higher you go the colder it gets…and we still want to be able to see the kangaroos.

Do you have any big concerns? If you anticipate any problems, where do you think they’ll arise?
Obviously crashing is a concern! We’ll be following the track where our support vehicle will be following. Should anything happen…we should be reasonably close to the vehicle. But yeah, if you break a leg badly or get injured off the track…that’s a pretty big concern. We have emergency beacons so it shouldn’t be too dangerous.

Getting ready for the long journey Down Under © The Turner Twins

Getting bitten by a snake in the arse end of nowhere wouldn’t be too much fun either. I actually think I’m more concerned about animals than I am about flying.

Have you done any dangerous snake training or anything like that?
No. I live in London, so there are a lot of dangerous people, but other than that, no.

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At this point, Hugo’s satellite phone dropped out and we couldn’t reconnect. He emailed Red Bull some time later and confirmed he and his brother would call through as and when they could with updates. Stay tuned.

Learn more about the Turner Twins and follow their epic journey in real-time using the live tracker on their website.
 

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