A SCOTTISH former Royal Air Force Pilot who was banned from flying in 1989 after being diagnosed with diabetes has set off on an attempt to land in 50 US states in a record time.
Douglas Cairns, who grew up on the banks of Loch Lochy in the Highlands, aims to demonstrate that diabetes is no obstacle to flying.
He took off on the first leg of his 9,000 mile journey yesterday 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," Mr Cairns said.
Mr Cairns was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1989 after serving more than five years in the RAF.
At the time piloting a plane with the condition was banned globally, so he was forced to give up his career.
"I started to have symptoms and didn't realise what they were," he said. "After losing about 26lbs in weight, the doctor said: 'You are a diabetic and you were a pilot.'"
The 47-year-old, who went to Lochaber High School before studying geography and business at Edinburgh University, put his passion for flying down to childhood days watching jets shoot across the Scottish Highlands.
However, after being forced to give up his pilot's licence, he turned to the world of finance and spent a decade working in London and Thailand.
Then, in the late 1990s, the United States relaxed its laws, enabling people with type 1 diabetes to take to the skies.
Mr Cairns took a leap of faith and spent five years catching up on lost flying time and regaining his licence.
Since then, in a twin-engine Beech Baron, he has set five world speed records, two US transcontinental records and become the first licensed pilot with type 1 diabetes to circle the globe, though he was obliged to have a safety pilot next to him.
On this year's flight, he aims to halve the existing record of 13 days, 22 hours and 22 minutes to land in 50 states. It will involve flying at least 11 hours daily on a minimum of five hours' sleep every night.
The International Diabetes Federation estimates that 230 million people worldwide have diabetes. Despite rapid progress in diabetes technology over the past decade, only the US, Britain, Canada, Australia and Israel let pilots with the condition fly privately and under restrictions.
In the US, any pilot with diabetes using insulin is required to test blood sugars half an hour before take off, each hour into a flight and half an hour before landing.
"Authorities do not yet take into account continuous blood glucose monitoring which gives readings every five minutes, which is one of the most exciting developments," Mr Cairns said.
"This has tremendous implications to help lift restrictive blanket ban policies in other countries," he added.
Mr Cairns' quest does not stop at this year's endeavour. "The next one will be Diabetes Flight 90, which is setting a record between Barrow, Alaska, and 90 degrees north, to the North Pole," he said.
Throughout this year's Diabetes Flight 50 adventure, Mr Cairns and his team will also be raising funds for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Sarah Johnson, its director of communications and policy, said: "Douglas continues to lead by example, both in his efforts to show that it is possible to fly safely when living with type 1 diabetes, and to raise money to support the world's best research to cure, treat and prevent the condition. We are extremely grateful for his ongoing support and wish him the best of luck in his upcoming endeavour."z