AN 11-YEAR-OLD aviation enthusiast who has a rare autoimmune disorder got the birthday surprise of a lifetime this week at an RAF base.
Jack Driver was given the Top Gun treatment on Wednesday when his parents took him for a surprise visit to RAF Lakenheath.
The Ipswich schoolboy, who was diagnosed with aplastic anaemia at the age of seven, thought he was going for a routine visit to Addenbrooke’s Hospital, in Cambridge.
But his parents, James and Helen, had something else in mind as they took a diversion to the US Air Force base where Jack took part in the Pilot for a Day programme.
Jack said the day was the ‘best birthday present ever’.
“I’ve always wanted to be a pilot, ever since I went to Bristol in 2010 for a bone marrow transplant.
“Thank you to RAF Lakenheath,” he said.
Jack’s day saw him given a briefing by USAFE flight commanders, given a tailor-made flight suit and taking a ride on the F-15 flight simulator.
He was then shown the real thing and had a chance to sit in an HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter and F-15C Eagle fighter jet.
After lunch at Pizza Hut, he was taken on a tour of the base, including a meeting with ‘The Bird Man’, Keith Mutton. Mr Mutton looks after the base’s predatory birds which clear the flight path of hazardous birds.
Making a decision over what had been the highlight of the day was a tough choice.
Jack said: “It’s very hard to decide. I really loved sitting in the Pave Hawk and the F-15 Eagle and I also loved being in the simulator and shooting down 10 enemy aircraft.”
The day was organised by Capt Jason Bianchi, an F-15 pilot from the 493rd Fighter Squadron, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2010.
He said: “Jack is a phenomenal and brilliant young man. He blows me away with how much he knows about aviation.”