Welcome to Diabetes Formation Flight USA

Thank You to all of Our Supporters!

A huge thanks from us go out to everyone who donated to help make DFFUSA successful and to the following people and organizations for supporting our project: Dexcom Inc., the continuous glucose sensor company, Threadneedle Asset Management (Douglas’ employer), and Get Real Consulting (Jason’s company). To Butch for hosting our training in Colorado at Easter. Also John at ATP Jet Center, Daytona Beach, to everyone at Natchitoches and Santa Teresa airports in Texas for speedy refuelling and hospitality, to Golden State Aviation at Gillespie Airfield, and to Jonathan Sackier at AOPA for covering the project.

It’s been a real pleasure to carry out a team project and work specifically with Butch Weaver and Jason Harmon, both US-based pilots with diabetes. We used Butch’s Cessna 310 along with my (gracefully aging) Baron (the white aircraft with red stripe & stickers) and between the three of us made this a very efficiently organized event, culminating with an invitation to a major US aviation conference in autumn to showcase the project and highlight aviation medical issues related to diabetes. The USA is a magnificent country to cross with varied and powerful scenery, made all the more enjoyable by sharing the experience. This project has real scope to help our www.pilotswithdiabetes.com advocacy efforts in both the USA and here in the UK.

-- Douglas Cairns

Diabetes Formation Flight is a formation flight of two twin-engine airplanes flown by pilots with Insulin Dependent Diabetes which, pending official confirmation, set the world speed record from Daytona Beach, Florida to San Diego, California for Class C1d ight aircraft. The flight took place on June 26th, 2012, departing Daytona Beach International Airport in Florida at 8:57:46 AM EDT, and landing at Gillespie Field in San Diego, CA at 6:35:44 PM PDT the same day for an elapsed time of 12 hours, 37 minutes, and 58 seconds.

We had an extremely enjoyable flight which included the two refuelling stops in Henderson, Texas and near El Paso. It was hard work over Florida steering around intense Tropical Storm Debby rain showers for the first 20 minutes and then climbing up into cloud and more precipitation, and then detouring west over the Gulf of Mexico (close to the eye of the Debby) to avoid storms building up inland. After an hour and a half though we were in the clear from where we enjoyed excellent tailwinds at 12,500 feet. The first refuelling at Henderson, Texas was 95 degrees and humid and it was good to climb back to 12,500 feet and cool off again, while refueling at Dona Ana Santa Teresa near El Paso it was 100 degrees but with low humidity it did not feel quite so hot. We had a couple more storms to steer around in Arizona before an exhilarating descent over the mountains to the east of San Diego and straight into Gillespie Field for a run-in-and-break above the runway, and on shutting down at Gillespie we had a quick interview with CBS and Fox 5. Overall it was a terrific and successful project.

Until 1997, piloting by individuals with insulin treated diabetes was completely prohibited throughout the world due to concerns of the dangers of low blood sugar during flight. With the advances in easy to use, portable blood sugar monitoring devices, and an intensive pre and in-flight blood sugar monitoring regimen, in 1997 pilots with well controlled insulin treated diabetes were allowed by the FAA to obtain medical certificates for private piloting.

Several other countries have followed the lead of the US including Canada, Great Britain, and Australia. Canada has even allowed some pilots with insulin treated diabetes to fly commercially when using a rigorous blood sugar monitoring procedure.

Our flight was challenging due to weather conditions from tropical storm Debby near departure, the 12.5 hour duration of the flight, and the fact that the entire flight was flown by two aircraft in formation, making it much more challenging than normal flight operations. We showed that modern technology for diabetes management, including continuous blood sugar monitoring, combined with a logical and strict management regimen can enable insulin treated diabetic individuals to effectively handle their condition while performing even the most challenging tasks.

The DFFUSA flight has several goals:

  • To raise diabetes awareness and funds for diabetes research.
  • To demonstrate that pilots with diabetes can safely fly the most challenging flights using the FAA’s protocol for private flying with insulin-dependent diabetes.
  • To illustrate how advances in diabetes monitoring and management make management of diabetes in flight a straighforward, safe, and simple part of flight operations.

Diabetes need not limit the scope of people’s dreams and ambitions.