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Autistic pilot returns to Esperance after epic solo circumnavigation

written by Jake Nelson | December 12, 2023

Hayden McDonald has successfully flown solo around Australia in his Jabiru J120. (Image: Wings Without Barriers/Instagram)

Young autistic pilot Hayden McDonald has completed his solo flight around Australia after three months and 8,000 nautical miles.

Hayden, 22, touched down in Esperance at 3pm on Monday, ending what is believed to be the first unaccompanied flight of its kind by an autistic pilot. He has logged more than 80 hours of flight time in his Jabiru J120 since the start of his journey on September 8.

Hayden, who achieved his Recreational Pilot’s Certificate at 19, was spurred to circumnavigate Australia after being turned down for a medical by the Royal Flying Doctor Service due to his autism, which he was told presented an “unacceptable risk to aeronautical navigation”.

Founding Wings Without Barriers to lobby for change, Hayden set out on his flight visiting every mainland state plus the Northern Territory, speaking and presenting in more than 20 towns. He was forced to briefly pause his journey in Kununurra on 30 October due to smoke from widespread bushfires but was able to take off again on 29 November for the final leg down the west coast.


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“Not only have I proven my capability as an autistic pilot, but most importantly, I have been welcomed into towns and communities across Australia in my efforts to build greater acceptance and understanding of autism and neurodiversity,” said Hayden.

“This journey may now be over, but my passion and drive to promote true inclusion is not. I will continue to campaign loudly so that autism is not regarded as a medical issue.

“We need to foster real understanding to stop autistic and neurodiverse Australians being stigmatised and discriminated against. Things need to change.”

Hayden said he had received “incredible support” over the three-month trek.

“From my sponsors to all the towns that welcomed me, and the schools, Rotary groups and community organisations who invited me to speak about my journey to help achieve greater acceptance and understanding for autistic and neurodiverse Australians – thank you,” he said.

“I would also like to thank my family and in particular, Jonathon Emanuel, who has offered endless guidance and words of wisdom during this journey. The support is greatly appreciated.”

Listen to our interview with Hayden on our special Australian Aviation Premium Podcast before his departure.

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