A former RAF flier who was grounded in 1989 after being diagnosed with diabetes has set off on an attempt to rewrite the record books.
Douglas Cairns, whose parents live in Lochaber, intends landing in all 50 American states within 13 days, 22 hours and 23 minutes, half the existing time, in a 9,000-mile trip.
But, above all, the 47-year-old former Lochaber High School pupil aims to demonstrate that diabetes is no obstacle to flying or many other pursuits.
He took off on the first leg of his marathon journey from Hawaii, crossing the Pacific Ocean to Los Angeles and which will end in Alaska, after speaking to his parents, James and Margaret Cairns, of Invergloy House, Invergloy, near Spean Bridge, on Saturday.
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 26lb, the doctor said ‘you are a diabetic and you were a pilot’.”
But in the late-90s, the US relaxed its laws, enabling people with Type 1 diabetes to pilot planes.
Mr Cairns then spent five years catching up on lost flying time to regain his licence.
Flying his twin-engine Beech Baron, he has since 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 to accompany him.
This year’s marathon flight will involve him flying at least 11 hours each day and taking a minimum of five hours’ sleep every night, all in the hope of raising several thousand dollars to aid research into 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,” said Mr Cairns. “This has tremendous implications to help lift restrictive blanket ban policies in other countries.”
Even before completing this year’s quest, Mr Cairns is planning Diabetes Flight 90, aimed at setting a record between Barrow, Alaska, and latitude 90 degrees north, to the North Pole,” he said.
His mother said: “He is doing what he loves most while at the same time raising money for research.”