Burnley born Pilot Ian flies GB athletes home to victory
A son of Burnley, who achieved a childhood dream to become a pilot, was at the helm of the British Airways 777 that flew the the Paralympic GB athletes home from Rio.
And for Senior First Officer Ian Walker this was the highlight of his 10 year career. He said: "I feel truly honoured that a boy from Burnley had a dream to become a pilot and having realised that dream I had the responsibility to safely fly our athletes home.
"As a British Airways pilot it is engrained in our character, "To fly, to serve" and I feel we certainly carried this out.
"To have flown the Paralympic GB athletes back home makes me feel extremely proud to be British and work for British Airways.
"This was without doubt the highlight of my career to date, the memories and feelings will stay with me forever."
A former pupil of Habergham High School and sixth form Ian started flying at the age of 14 and obtained all of his flying licences by the age of 19.
Married, and with family who still live in Burnley, Ian said it was a great honour to meet the athletes who he said were very "humble" and more interested in asking the pilots and cabin crew about the aircraft rather than talking about their amazing achievements.
Ian said: " I met various athletes including Ellie Simmonds, Ellie Robinson, Stefanie Reid, Toby Gold and Jonathan Broom Edwards. The amazing Ellies even came into the flight deck to have photographs taken with their medals.
"All of the athletes had inspirational stories and were looking forward to getting home to spend time with friends, family and get some well-deserved rest.
Ian added: "The atmosphere at the airport in Rio and on board the aircraft was really positive and electric.
"As we walked through the airport waving Union Jack flags we were greeted to rounds of applause and cheering.
"It made you feel extremely proud to be British and be flying our heroes home."
Throughout the flight the crew sent various messages back to British Airways in London, informing them when they left Rio, crossed the equator, passed Cape Verde, Tenerife and then started our descent. And it all added to the excitement on board, knowing that the flight was nearing home.
The aircraft, which was named Victorious, was decorated with Union Jack bunting and flags and British Airways had prepared a special menu for the athletes and loaded extra champagne to toast their success.
Half an hour before landing the national anthem was played on the plane's PA system and Ian said there was a great reaction and a real sense of pride and honour.
He said: " From the moment we entered the airport terminal in Rio to be greeted with applause and cheers right the way through to when I spoke to the control tower at London Heathrow with the controller saying "on behalf of all the controllers at Heathrow, thank you for flying our athletes home," it truly was a remarkable trip.
"I will never forget the feeling as we walked through arrivals in Terminal 5 at Heathrow to be greeted by a sea of Union Jacks, TV cameras and photographers.
"All we had done was our job, to safely fly our athletes back home, yet the general public were so excited and grateful to us for doing this.
"It truly was a magical moment."