Record-breaking pilot takes to the skies for diabetes

Mon Jul 12, 2010 7:01am EDT
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By John Irish

PARIS (Reuters Life!) - A former Royal Air Force pilot with diabetes is preparing to break another record by touching down in all 50 U.S. states and show that the disease is no obstacle for enthusiasts who dream of flying.

London-based Douglas Cairns starts his journey of 9,000 miles on Sunday with a first leg from Hawaii, crossing the Pacific Ocean to Los Angeles. From there he aims to land in all 48 mainland states before finishing in Alaska.

"One of the main aims of this is to highlight what you can do with diabetes when it comes to flying," Cairns told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Cairns was diagnosed with diabetes in 1989 after serving more than five years in Britain's air force. At the time piloting a plane with the disease was banned globally, so he was forced to give up his chosen career.

"I started to have symptoms and didn't realize what they were. After losing about 26 pounds in weight, the doctor said: 'You are a diabetic and you were a pilot.'," he said.

The 47-year old, whose passion comes from boyhood days watching jets shoot across the Scottish Highlands, turned to the world of finance and worked in London and Thailand.

But in the late 1990s, the United States relaxed its laws, enabling people with type 1 diabetes to take to the skies.

Cairns, who has type 1 diabetes where the pancreas cannot produce insulin, took a leap of faith and spent five years catching up on lost flying time.   Continued...

<p>Former Royal Air Force fighter pilot Douglas Cairns poses with his Beech Baron twin engine plane at Bangpra airfield, east of Bangkok, on December 8, 2002. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang</p>