I have often written of the impact of aviation beyond the cockpit. The people, the places and the memories that are created by this wonderful field of endeavour. There have been times of unbridled enjoyment and solemn moments of loss when a fellow pilot has failed to return. Those memories, good and bad, remain with me to this and are intrinsically woven into the fibre of who I am.
As I reflect further, I cannot help but call to mind nine special pilots that I now call 'friends'. Thrown together at short notice and shipped overseas to study a new aircraft, we were little more than acquaintances with a common goal at first. Yet through the pressure of exams and the sweat of the simulator we became more a band of brothers; 'The Botley 10'.
Many, many miles from home and working towards a common goal, we lived in each others' pockets. The workload was high, but the laughter was frequent. Diamonds are forged under pressure and this group of pilots is testament to that. For beyond the training, trials and tribulations these friendships have continued stronger than ever, offering mutual support in a range of situations beyond the flight deck.
We are always told to 'enjoy the journey' and that cliche is so very true. Aviation can at times call for an extreme focus, particularly in times of training. Even so, becoming too myopic can let life slide by in the periphery and the big picture can be missed. Aviation opens up the skies and the world to us all, but it is an experience best shared.
To everyone that I have shared a cockpit with, or a drink at the end of a long day of dry, dirt airstrips - thank you. To the old pilots that took the time to mentor me and attempted to smooth the rough edges - I am in your debt. To my mates who died too young on some remote hillside - you will never be forgotten. And to 'The Botley 10', you are a special band of brothers and a reminder of how aviation and airmanship can bring out the very best in us all.
Enjoy the journey, the people and the places for therein lies the real fellowship of flight.