Be a brickie, squadron leader was advised
RAF pilot Duncan Swainston had always wanted to take to the skies when he was growing up in Weisdale.
So he was surprised when a careers adviser urged him to take up a more down-to-earth career as a brick-layer.
The Squadron Leader decided against following the advice and followed his dream of learning to fly. That proved to be a good decision.
The 35-year old – who has served with the air force in troubled hot-spots – has flown in locations all over the globe. He has also been an instructor, helping a new generation of pilots realise their ambitions.
His story came full circle this week when he flew an RAF King Air to Sumburgh Airport to meet would-be pilots – and offer some more encouraging advice than he had received.
Fifteen young sea-scouts visited the airport on Monday night to learn more about flying – and have a nose around the aircraft. High school youngsters from the isles were also given the chance of a look.
Squadron Leader Swainston said the visit helped undo the “bad karma” done to him when he visited the career’s convention at the Clickimin Centre as a senior pupil at the Anderson High School.
“When I went to the careers convention at the Clickimin when I was in fifth or sixth year, and mentioned to the career’s adviser that I fancied a career in the military as a pilot, I was kind of told, ‘well, there’s not much chance of that, but have you considered bricklaying’?”
He stressed there was nothing wrong with being a brickie, but he was surprised to have received the advice as he had never shown any indication of wanting to enter the construction industry.
“I had never hinted I had been interested in bricklaying at all, so I was a bit surprised. There was maybe a bit of a dearth in bricklayers for Shetland at the time.
“I grew up in Weisdale and went to Whiteness Primary School and on to Scalloway Junior High and then to Anderson for fifth and sixth year.
“I guess I knew from a pretty early age that I fancied joining the air force. A couple of times I’d seen the [low-level aircraft] Buccaneers flying up and down the valley from Weisdale.”
Spurning the unexpected advice, the young Mr Swainston became ever-more determined. He attended lectures at Glasgow University, opting to join the university air squadron at the same time to gain some flying experience. He joined the air force full-time after graduating.
“Essentially when I went to be interviewed by the air force and they said, ‘what support have you been given from school?’ I told them about my career’s advice.
“They asked me, ‘why didn’t you take that advice?’ and I said, ‘Well, if you take that kind of advice you’re not going to get anywhere’.
“I got my pilot qualification in Australia, and then I came back to the UK and did my first operational tour on a Hercules C-130 transport plane.”
Having served in Iraq and Afghanistan, he became an instructor – taking new pilots through their initial flying training for the air force. From there he went to Las Vegas and had a hand on the controls of UAV – unmanned aerial vehicles – “that were causing a bit of a stink in the news”.
After his stint in the States he flew the large surveillance aircraft, the Sentinel R1. But it was as Squadron 45 Leader, a multi-engined pilot training squadron, that he was given the chance to come back to his home island to offer some – hopefully encouraging – careers advice.
“We were invited by the Aberdeen air force careers office to collaborate on a visit up to the Shetland islands to engage with isolated rural communities to hopefully spark a bit of interest.
“I thought I would return and undo the bad karma that was done to me. On the Monday night we met with a group of sea scouts and I got to tell them what we did and what we were up to and took them about the plane.
“The next day a group of school students came down from Sandwick and Brae and the Anderson High and we talked through some stuff.
“The chance to take an aircraft up was offered. I thought it would be a good idea to come back up to Shetland and create a bit of awareness.”