Blog: ‘Returning Wounded’ take to the air in the spirit of Bader

By Chris McHutchison

This submission is somewhat longer than would normally be published by insideMoray – however, we are certain that many people will appreciate that this was a fantastic event being pioneered in our region – and sums up perfectly the fortitude of the human spirit.

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JUNE 27 SAW Moray Flying Club open its doors once again to the Douglas Bader Foundation – a close associate of the club and long term friend.

Prior to today the club has hosted the ‘Young Aviators Day’ on behalf of the foundation, to give locally disabled children the opportunity to take to the air in a Moray Flying Club (MFC) aircraft.

The event is the first of its type to be run in the country and ‘Returning Wounded’ will provide the valuable experience of flying to service personnel injured on duty.

Following the success of the ‘Young Aviators Day’ that has been held for 6 concurrent years at Kinloss, and at other sites around the UK, the Douglas Bader Foundation wished to use the format of this very successful endeavour to expand the horizon in their mission of providing support and help to children and adults affected by physical and mental disabilities.

To this end MFC were approached by Douglas Bader Foundation to trial a new event, labelled ‘Returning Wounded’. This event was to provide an experience of flight to these individuals, to assist with rehabilitation and to encourage an interest in aviation similar to that of Douglas Bader himself.

Owing to MFC being located within the boundaries of Kinloss Barracks on the edge of the Moray Firth, and being closely linked with the military, the club was the first choice for this event. The date selected was also significant with the 27th also being Armed Forces Day.

This is also in line with the military connection that is the basis of the Douglas Bader Foundation, with Baders service in the RAF and his role as a Spitfire pilot during WW2.

So with the plan for the day forged, the crosses on the calendar racked up until the event was finally upon us. The days forecast expected a brilliant day, very much the contrast of the weather in the run up to the event, and true to the meteorological man’s word, it was perfectly sunny, with a light wind straight down the runway.

With the weather on our side the aircraft were diligently pulled out of the hangar and serviced by club members, ready for the days flying. MFC operate three aircraft, two Cessna 152 (2 seat) and a single Cessna 172 (4 seat).

First up – Coldstream Guardsman

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Preparations complete, the first Returning Wounded soldier arrived, eager to get airborne – a Coldstream Guardsman sustained injuries when struck by an IED. As a result of his wounds, he had both legs amputated above the knee. Due to this, he was unable to return to front line service and now.

He did not allow his disability to impair his determination – and to that end can be found helping people in his local community of Elgin in times of bad weather by using his land rover to tow stuck vehicles, deliver essentials to elderly people unable to brave the conditions and any other assistance he can ably offer.

After receiving a safety briefing and the mandatory service issue brew, he made his way to the two-seat Cessna 152, G-FIFE. At the aircraft he was offered assistance to embark – but this was kindly declined. He moved himself to the door and expertly manoeuvred himself into the cockpit – a testament to his can-do attitude.

With engine started and pre-flight checks carried out, pilot Iain Bright, taxied out to the runway to begin ‘Returning Wounded 2015’. The flight was an hour long, and after landing his passenger’s enjoyment was evident with a beaming smile on show as the engine was shut down back on the line.

His flight took him west to Inverness and then low level over Loch Ness no sign of the monster sadly – returning to Kinloss via Grantown-on-Spey.

With the first aircraft down the rest of the group arrived at the club, just as keen for the day ahead.

The variety of troops that attended was vast, with three Royal Marines from 45 Commando, HMS Condor, in Arbroath, a RAF Regiment gunner from 51 Squadron at RAF Lossiemouth and two Royal Regiment of Scotland soldiers with their families from the Personnel Rehabilitation Unit (PRU) at Dreghorn Barracks.

RAF Gunner takes to the air

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With everyone arrived welcomes were exchanged and the flying pace picked up. Next to fly was Ollie Upton from 51 Squadron.

Ollie received his injuries in Afghanistan when the vehicle in which he was travelling was hit by a rocket propelled grenade – he sustained shrapnel wounds to both legs and his left arm.

After extensive rehabilitation, he has since returned to full time duty as a regiment gunner once again. Ollie was to take the controls of the Cessna 172, as his family would be along and accompanied him during this amazing experience. The route he followed was the same as Bens, with a small detour to allow the chance to overfly the family home.

Lunch proceeded with a buffet provided by MFC and a chance to provide the group with information on Aerobility, a charity that exists solely to provide flying experiences and training to people with a range of disabilities. The charity have developed aircraft adaptations, hoisting techniques and other solutions to ensure flying is fully accessible.

This is generally beyond the reach of clubs due to the specialised nature of the equipment required, and this makes the Returning Wounded event so much more unique because of the obstacles to be overcome in the planning of the day.

Lunch was wrapped up with the opportunity to get some photographs, to allow the guys to reflect on the event in the future, and hopefully view it as a high point.

After lunch flying again picked up and carried on until late afternoon. Due to the distance travelled by members of the group to attend, flying ceased at 5.30pm to allow all a timely departure.

Goodbyes and thanks were exchanged and with that the first Returning Wounded event was at an end.

In total, the days flying reached 15 flying hours, a high amount, allowed only by the good weather and enthusiasm of all involved.

We look forward to hosting the event again next year, wish the group all the best with their recoveries and future endeavours.