Wings 4 Warriors is a local Aberdeen based charity that takes soldiers who have sustained life changing injuries (such as the loss of a limb) and helps fund their retraining through the long and expensive process of becoming a Commercial Helicopter Pilot.
Oil and Gas People recently visited Wings 4 Warriors Operation in Aberdeen and met 32-year-old Mark Radcliffe who founded the charity, and amputee ex-soldier Chris Kirk who was trained by the organisation. To say what Mark and his team has put in place is fantastic really doesn’t give their achievements merit as the charity has managed to completely fund every successful applicant through their pilot training and has enlisted a team of sponsors and volunteers to reduce the training costs from an eye-watering £75,000 down to a sustainable £15,000. This is almost certainly the cheapest anywhere in the world!
Mark originally provided the first training aircraft himself, but since then he has managed to gain invaluable sponsorship from helicopter operator CHC who provide a range of services to assist the charity. Immediately CHC purchased a training helicopter for the charity, provided brand new classroom facilities in their Dyce base and allowed CHC engineers Matt Thomson and Pride of Aberdeen Armed Services Nominee Hugh Sutherland to service the aircraft on a voluntary basis in their spare time. They also provided access to their wealth of experienced pilots, many of whom had been instructors and examiners before joining the company and were more than happy to give their free time to such a worthy cause.
Thanks to the generosity of CHC, Matt, Hugh and a close knit team of volunteer instructors the charity is now able to run the helicopter at the cost of only insurance and fuel.
Mark’s inspiration for the charity came when his father whom he comically described as a “big squishy businessman” sat beside an injured serviceman by the name of ‘Billy’ on a flight returning to the UK. Mark’s father listened to Billy’s story about how he had sustained several gunshot wounds during a tour overseas and how the injuries sustained required the transfusion of an astounding 87 pints of blood and culminated in the amputation of Billy’s leg – an injury that left him medically unfit to continue service.
Mark’s father heard as the amputee serviceman explained how his life’s dream was always to be a helicopter pilot and saw how the man’s future appeared masked in uncertainty and doubt. In a spur of the moment act of kindness Mark’s father offered to personally pay for the stranger to undertake a trial lesson and enable him to fulfil his life dream, even just for a day.
After flying with Billy and spotting his potential, Mark decided to set up a charity so that Billy’s dream could continue into a sustainable and rewarding new life. So Wings4Warriors was established in 2012. Since then Mark and his team has grown the charity to a point where they can fully train four injured soldiers every year to become professional aviators and hopefully go on to rewarding and fulfilling new futures.
It’s easy as a country that hasn’t seen a bomb dropped on its soil since 1944 to take our troops for granted and as Britons, we are lucky enough to have entire generations of people who can say that the closest encounter they have had to an armed conflict is from playing call of duty or watching a Ross Kemp documentary. This luxury however is not free and is provided by the bravery of the men and women of our armed forces. Every injured soldier who is unable to continue their service should have these opportunities open to them and we believe Wings 4 Warriors is one such charity providing an excellent service to reward our nations heroes.
Chris Kirk is one such hero – a man who was deployed in 2010 on the frontlines of Helmand province in Afghanistan at the age of just 19. His job was to sweep the terrain for Improvised Explosive Devices (IED’s), a role he undertook for the whole 6-month deployment. One day however Chris’s life was changed forever when after a deafening explosion it quickly became apparent – he had stepped on an IED.
Chris’s comrades began working tirelessly to keep him alive long enough for a Chinook helicopter to arrive and provide medical extraction. Despite their professionalism and the outstanding medical care provided on board the aircraft, Chris had lost the bottom half of his left leg and would require amputation.
He recalls arriving home after being medically discharged, receiving treatment at Headley Court and the fitting of his first prosthetic. He also recalls the feeling as he went home unemployed and unsure of the future. It quickly became apparent that his future was shrouded in uncertainty after he realised that jobs most suitable for someone with an amputated limb were not entirely suitable for someone who had become adjusted to the high intensity atmosphere of a war zone.
As a child Chris fondly remembered reading the book Chickenhawk by Robert Mason – the story of a heroic helicopter pilot in the Vietnam war – Chris decided to investigate out of curiosity whether amputees could be pilots and upon searching Google for exactly that, came across Marks charity – Wings 4 Warriors. It seemed too good to be true, but Chris applied anyway. After a rigorous screening process Chris was accepted and funded through the charity and is now a fully qualified commercial pilot. In fact, thanks to public support for the charity Chris has now gone on to become a full-time flight instructor for the organisation.
When asked what Wings 4 Warriors did for Chris personally, a change in tone was immediate, Chris replied: “I can say what it does for injured soldiers in general – It gives them a second chance in life. I became Chris the injured soldier at 19 because that’s what happens to you and that’s all you are. Being a soldier isn’t just a job it’s a way of life – you ARE a soldier. After my injuries though, when people asked what I did, I had to say I was an injured soldier in a rehab unit.”
“Now I can say I’m a helicopter pilot, it just gives me a second chance in life that helped me recover. Wings 4 Warriors helped me progress to a better future and helped me put my injury behind me and look forward to the future. It’s great to have this amazing career instead of the alternatives”
Mark now aims to expand the service to include a fixed wing license in response to an industry prediction of 500,000 new fixed wing jobs over the coming 30 years. Wings 4 Warriors hopes to extend their service to allow 8 injured servicemen and women to train as professional pilots every year and Oil and Gas People would like to extend their support.
Vote for volunteer engineer Hugh Sutherland who has been nominated for his services to Wings 4 Warriors for the Pride of Aberdeen Awards
Donate personally by visiting the Wings4warriors Justgiving page
Donate personally by texting WNGS43 followed by a £ sign and your donation amount to 70070
Contact Wings4warriors if you would like to fundraise on their behalf
If you can’t afford to donate or are unable to assist in fundraising, you can still help the team by leaving a nice comment to keep them motivated on our Facebook post.
Oil and Gas People would like to thank Mark and Chris for the hospitality extended to us during our visit and the time they gave to explain their story and background.
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