Lapping Australia for Autism Awareness

Hayden McDonald’s mission to inspire and inform

Long before Esperance local Hayden McDonald obtained his Recreational Pilot Certificate, he knew he’d found his passion.

Flying with his grandfather across the Western Australian outback as a child, Hayden found peace and harmony thousands of feet above the ground. For someone on the autism spectrum, flying provided a welcome break from the challenges he faced on the ground. He began his training and obtained his Recreational Pilot Certificate at age 17, jumping at every opportunity he had to go flying.

The next step for Hayden was to begin the process of gaining his Commercial Pilot’s Licence, hoping to follow his dream of a career in aviation. After going through the medical process, he received an email stating intention to deny his application. Hayden’s autism diagnosis was determined to “[represent] unacceptable risk to aeronautical navigation”.

It was a devastating blow for Hayden. His career dreams were being ripped away from him, not for lack of ability, but for a diagnosis of ‘disability’.

Resilient as always, Hayden was determined not to let the bad news quash his dreams of flying. He founded Wings Without Barriers, his own project dedicated to “creating understanding and acceptance of autism”. He began crafting an idea to raise awareness for autism and inspire young people to follow their dreams, no matter the ‘barriers’ they might perceive.

With the help of the ABC’s Trailblazers program, Hayden has been able to organise a trip around Australia for September 2023 to promote Wings Without Barriers and his crusade for autism acceptance. Flying his Jabiru J-120, Hayden will be stopping in 60 spots to speak to local schools and show students that the sky is the limit.

Hayden is currently in the midst of planning the trip and doing preparation flights for what will undoubtedly be an incredible adventure. The SportPilot team are excited to see where his journey leads and wish Hayden all the best in his endeavours for autism awareness!

You can follow Hayden’s journey on his YouTube channel, Wings Without Barriers.