Hayden McDonald completes incredible solo circumnavigation of Australia

Trailblazing autistic pilot Hayden McDonald has completed his inspiring solo circumnavigation of Australia, proving his flying competence and that he should be judged on his ability, not disability.

Hayden, 22, touched down at Myrup Airstrip in Esperance at 3pm (WA time) yesterday, rounding out a three-month mission, in which he has travelled more than 8000 nautical miles in over 80 hours of flying around the country.

Image credit: Emily Smith/ABC News

The unaccompanied flight is believed to be the first of its kind attempted by an autistic pilot.
“Finishing this flight is a dream come true,” Hayden said.

“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.”

Hayden embarked on the ambitious flight, leaving Esperance on September 8 in his small Jabiru J120 light aircraft he affectionately calls ‘7315’. He traversed South Australia, New South Wales, Queensland and the Northern Territory, but was forced to make the difficult decision to pause the trip in Kununurra on October 30 due to widespread bushfires and smoke making visibility poor and it too dangerous to fly.

He returned to the skies two weeks ago, leaving Kununurra on November 29 before travelling down the west coast, completing his final leg from Albany to Esperance yesterday. Landing in Esperance, Hayden was welcomed by local community members including his mother, acclaimed fiction author Fleur McDonald, and flying mentor Jonathon Emmanuel.

Image credit: Emily Smith/ABC News

Hayden’s love of aviation started as a young child when he would fly with this grandfather. That fondness grew and at the age of 15 he took to the cockpit himself, obtaining a recreational pilot’s certificate at 19. But his dream of flying with the Royal Flying Doctor Service was crushed when the Civil Aviation Safety Authority denied him the opportunity of a medical because he is autistic. Hayden said he had been left disheartened after his medical was refused on the grounds his “autism spectrum disorder represents unacceptable risk to aeronautical navigation”.

So, he founded Wings Without Barriers to help lobby for change. Since September, Hayden has visited more than 20 towns in South Australia, New South Wales, Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia, presenting at schools and to communities in a bid to bring greater understanding and acceptance of autism.

“I would like to thank everyone for all of the incredible support I have received over the past three months,” Hayden said.

“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.

“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.

“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.”

To follow Hayden’s journey, visit his Instagram page, Facebook or YouTube channel.

Image credit: Emily Smith/ABC News