Engines? Check. Radio communications? Check. Glucose? Check.
By Erin McHenry
It’s not a typical task on a preflight safety checklist, but for Jason Harmon and other private pilots with type 1 diabetes, a finger stick and meter reading is just part of the routine.
“Compared to the other tasks we do while flying, managing blood glucose is one of the easier ones,” Jason says.
Growing up, Jason, 42, dreamed of becoming a pilot and joining the U.S. Air Force. He flew solo for the first time at age 16 and earned his private pilot licence a year late. But shortly after graduating from high school, one word changed all of that: diabetes.
Before 1996, people with diabetes were prohibited from flying any type of aircraft in the United States. Today, they can fly private planes if they meet and follow specific standards set by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
“In the U.S. there have been hundreds of private pilots certified to fly with their insulin-dependent diabetes,” Jason says. “And there have been no safety-related issues with those pilots.”
After years if believing he could never fly again, taking off the runway for the first time was a surreal feeling for Jason. It gave him a greater appreciation for flying and inspired him to spread the word. He wasn’t the only person with diabetes who could do this; many people with diabetes could safely fly if they set their minds to it.
Determined to make his case, Jason joined Douglas Cairns, a former Royal Air Force pilot with type 1 diabetes from London, to form Diabetes Formation Flight USA 2012. Douglas has led diabetes-awareness flights all over the world and is the first person with type 1 diabetes to complete a transglobal flight. Both Diabetes Formation Flights have broken world speed records.
“We’re trying to highlight the fact that it’s actually fairly easy to do this monitoring,” Jason says. “As long as proper procedures are followed, diabetes really doesn’t add any safety risk to flight. The FAA does not have to rely on us to follow procedure, but again, we’re pilots. Everything we do is about following procedure.”
For the annual formation flights, Jason joins private pilots with insulin-treated diabetes to fly long-distance journeys. The group’s tagline: Diabetes need not limit the scope of people’s dreams and ambitions. The next flight takes off in July from Lincoln, Nebraska and touches down in Iowa City, Iowa.
“We want to show people with diabetes that it’s not just the extraordinary abilities of pilots like Douglas that enable world-record-setting flights” Jason says. “Many people with diabetes can safely do very challenging activities if they take control of their diabetes and follow safety procedures. As this is more widely demonstrates, it sets the discussion to promote regulatory reform around the world.”
To learn more about Diabetes Formation Flight USA, visit dffusa.org