An Anderson High School physics teacher was a guest at a reception at Buckingham Palace recently to celebrate the centenary of the Air League.
Paul Thomason, 26, from Mid Yell, who holds a private pilot’s licence, received a certificate for a flying bursary from the organisation’s patron the Duke of Edinburgh.
The Air League was founded in 1909 to promote British aviation and now helps maintain the country’s position as one of the world leaders in aerospace. It liaises with the government, the armed services, local authorities and the press, and offers flying, gliding and engineering scholarships and bursaries and advice for young people following a career in aviation.
At the reception Mr Thomason got the opportunity to meet some well-known people in the flying business. One of them was Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the American pilot who in January famously ditched an Airbus in the Hudson River. The plane had been hit by a flock of geese, knocking out both engines, and Capt Sullen-berger’s cool action saved the lives of all the 155 passengers and crew onboard. At the Air League ceremony he was presented with the Founder’s Medal.
“He was an interesting fellow to yarn to and it was an honour to meet him,” Mr Thomason said. “I don’t think I have ever met anyone so cool, calm and collected.
“I also met Yves Rossy, the man who flew across the English Channel wearing a jet-powered carbon fibre wing. He said that someday he hoped his jet wing would be commonplace. I told him I thought I wouldn’t mind a shot of it.”
Mr Thomason’s award was sponsored by Lady Nadine Cobham in memory of her late husband Sir Michael Cobham, whose company pioneered air-to-air refuelling, developed exclusively for military use and successfully used in the Falklands campaign.
Mr Thomason is using the bursary to fund an Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC) rating, which will allow him to fly with reference to instruments, useful if weather conditions deteriorate and he had to enter cloud to get back to an aerodrome to land.
“Without instrument training it is amazing how quickly you can become disorientated when flying in cloud,” he said. “Your bodily senses cannot be trusted and you have to rely on the aircraft instruments, otherwise very quickly you could lose control of the aircraft due to spatial disorientation. I am very thankful to the Air League and sponsor for the award of the bursary. It has made a significant contribution to my flying skills.”
While growing up in Yell, where his parents still live, Mr Thomason harboured an ambition to take to the air from an early age.
“I have always wanted to fly, for as long as I can remember really. I guess most boys at some point find aircraft interesting. I’m told it probably started when I got to go up to the cockpit of the aeroplane on the way home from getting my tonsils removed at the age of five and ever since I have been interested.
“[Loganair pilots] Norman Leask and Eddie Watt were very patient and took the time to answer my questions and show me about the aircraft they were flying at the time. Norman flew the rescue helicopter and Eddie flew the Islander from Tingwall.
“I started taking flying lessons when I went away to university as there isn’t a flying school in Shetland. I got my pilot’s licence the same week that I graduated from university. I enjoyed getting the licence more than the degree but I think my parents enjoyed the graduation more.
“I would encourage anyone to give flying a go. It is a chance to develop a new skill and see places from a different perspective. You get to meet some really interesting people along the way and hear some fascinating stories.
“I really enjoy teaching [but] at some point I think I would like to try flying instructing, moving from classroom-based teaching to aeroplane-based teaching.”
Mr Thomason said he was delighted to meet Prince Philip, who himself holds a pilot’s licence, as he helps with the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme at the Anderson High School.
“He appeared genuinely interested in what I had been doing and was keen to hear how our pupils were getting on with their awards.”
Mr Thomason said aviation got a lot of bad press, especially in terms of its effect on climate change, but it was an extremely important industry, especially to places like Shetland. “We wouldn’t be very well off without aeroplanes and helicopters,” he added.
“In Shetland there are not a huge number of opportunities for young people to get involved in aviation so I am glad that organisations like the Air League exist and are willing to award scholarships and bursaries to help people further their flying skills and ambitions.”
If anyone would like more information about the Air League or learning to fly Mr Thomason said they would be welcome to contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org