The story of Virgin and it’s founder is inextricably linked to the world of flight. Whether it be spaceships, aeroplanes or hot-air balloons – the sky has never been the limit.
Richard Branson has always been passionate about getting people in the air – a passion that began manifesting itself in his early years, thanks in part to one of the Royal Air Force's most famous pilots, Sir Douglas Bader.
Commissioned in 1930 as a Royal Air Force (RAF) officer, Douglas Bader was involved in a devastating plane crash, which left him a double amputee. Bader was soon discharged from the RAF, but would return after the outbreak of the Second World War as a squadron leader. He quickly became a house-hold name and a symbol of courage, hope and British resistance.
Throughout his time with the RAF Bader was captured on several occasions. Despite the loss of both his legs he made several daring escape attempts and as a result was repeatedly moved from one risoner of war camp to another, ultimately ending up in the notorious Colditz Castle until he was finally set free after four years of captivity. His life was later immortalised by Kenneth Moore’s Portrayal of him in the classic movie ‘Reach For The Sky’ and his position as a Great British hero. Bader had become an inspiration to disabled and able-bodied people alike, demonstrating an ability to stay driven, face challenges and ‘get on with your life’.
“I was very fortunate to have known Douglas Bader as a child, since my Aunt Clare was perhaps his best friend,” said Richard Branson. “He used to sit on the lawn and tell us stories of how he’d escaped on so many occasions from prisoner of war camps in Germany until they finally confiscated his legs. Being a seven-year-old ‘Nasty’ myself, I used to run off with his legs to hide them only to find out that he could use his arms just as well as his legs and I never got far! His spirit of adventure had an enormous influence in my life as he had on millions of others. He literally reached for the sky.”
Douglas Bader was knighted in 1976 and following his death in 1982 a foundation was created in his honour. The Douglas Bader Foundation (DBF) works to advance and promote the physical, mental and spiritual welfare of persons who are born without limbs, have lost one or more limbs, or are otherwise physically disabled.
Perhaps the most ambitious of all DBF projects has been the creation ‘Bader’s Bus Company’ – the first ever disabled air display team. The project began three years ago through a partnership with the leading British disabled aviation charity ‘Aerobility’ who have been teaching disabled to fly for 25 years.
The Bader’s Bus Company team are continuing Douglas Bader’s important work of changing people’s perceptions of disability by representing the disabled community in the highly skilled and very dangerous world of air display performance. What makes this project even more special is that the team leader of ‘Bader’s Bus Company’ is Virgin Atlantic’s very own, Mike Wildeman.
Mike has worked with Virgin Atlantic since 1996 and has spent 23 years flying the A330 and A340. Mike is a captain and is currently working in Virgin Atlantic’s Flight Safety department – hoping to return to the skies later this year. Mike was involved in a motorbike accident 19 years ago and due to complications he went through an elective amputation two and a half years ago. “We hope to inspire disabled and able bodied alike and want to be a positive force the helps encourage people to overcome their own challenges in life,” said Mike.
The 2019 UK airshow season has officially begun and Mike and the rest of Bader’s Bus Company performed their first public air display at the Duxford Festival. All reviews from the show were amazing – with the team getting the biggest cheer of the whole show.
Looking to the future, Bader’s Bus Company are asking for financial help so they can continue to perform across the country and spread their message of hope. The team needs specially adapted aircraft to perform at future air shows – as well needing them to teach other disabled pilots to develop flying skills and grow in confidence.
If you’re able to support these extraordinary disabled pilots, Bader’s Bus Company, please visit their Virgin Money Giving page and donate to their incredible cause.