Roger Cruickshank is a fast jet pilot in the Royal Air Force and recently published his first book, ‘Speed of Sound, Sound of Mind’, but it’s not the usual aviation fare of flying tales and war stories. Gareth Stringer sat down with Roger to learn more about this significant project.
“A positive mental attitude in life can sometimes be the difference between carrying on and giving up altogether.”
So says the blurb on the ‘Speed of Sound, Sound of Mind’ Facebook page and it’s a statement that most of us would surely agree with. It’s not, however, a statement that most of us would expect to find as the cornerstone of a book by a current fast jet pilot. Mentioned in passing perhaps, absolutely, but this really is THE theme of Roger’s book, written in conjunction with his friend, and performance coach, Don MacNaughton.
Not only is it at the heart of the book, and this incidentally is a book with a lot of heart, but it is there as a force for good, as Roger and Don aim to raise awareness, and funds, in support of mental health and two associated charities; Help for Heroes and the Scottish Association of Mental Health.
So, what’s this got to do with aviation and why is there a feature about it on GAR, you might be asking?
Well, Roger is a current Eurofighter Typhoon pilot, now based at RAF Coningsby, and has intercepted no less than 22 different Russian aircraft to date; namely Tu-95 Bear, Tu-160 Blackjack, Il-78 Midas, Su-34 Fullback, Mig-31 Foxhound and An-26 Curl if you’re wondering, so what more do you need?
I think the fact is that this book could, one way or another, have been written by almost anyone, for few of us are untouched by issues of mental health, whether directly or indirectly. But Roger and Don have written it, that’s the point, and now you are reading this because you are interested in aviation, so you really should go and buy a copy if you haven’t already!
But why Roger?
Well, in a nutshell (no spoilers here, it’s all in the public domain!), ‘Speed of Sound, Sound of Mind’ follows Roger as he pursues his twin aspirations of becoming a Royal Air Force fighter pilot and top-rated skier, and Don, a performance coach. It provides an insight into their very different life courses, as Roger strives to represent Great Britain at the 2006 Winter Olympics, until their paths meet through fate and circumstance.
Roger Cruickshank is a man who found that aforementioned positive mental attitude, through his meeting and subsequent friendship with Don MacNaughton, despite having to come to terms with injury, setbacks and the grief of losing his mother to suicide. It was, in the main, that devastating event that inspired Roger to fight against the stigma of mental health.
As the book’s summary concludes, this isn’t just a regular autobiography of two men and their desire to beat the odds. It also provides useful exercises for the reader to use, to help with their own personal issues and the challenges they might face.
So, as I said, this is not your average collection of ripping yarns and ‘I learned about flying from that’, but something very different, and very welcome. But there is plenty of aviation in there, I hasten to add, and that is something Roger was very aware of when it came to writing the book.
“I wanted to major on the aviation as I knew there were plenty of enthusiasts out there, and with all the other angles too, including Don’s backstory as well, several people had suggested that we should write a book. So, we did!
“There is still a huge stigma surrounding mental health and we are both hopeful that we can play some small part in raising awareness and maybe even helping people. As a society, it is still quite difficult for people to put their hands up and admit that they need to get help of some sort, for example. I think it is getting easier, but it is still a problem.
“Mental health itself covers many different areas, it is a vast and broad topic, and so it is a difficult subject to cover in full. So, what we have tried to do in the book, and this is where Don’s exercises really come in useful, is to try and help people build a skillset to perhaps assist them with recognising the signs and dealing with some of the issues.”
While researching for this feature I learned that in 2014, 6,122 suicides were registered in the UK and the highest suicide rate was for men aged 45-49. Not only that, the female suicide rate in England is at its highest since 2005 and for the UK, at its highest since 2011*.
That’s more than 15 people committing suicide every day; a scary statistic and one that surely we can improve upon as a society?
“All we can really do is try to break down that stigma”, says Roger. “We need people to feel comfortable with admitting that there might be an issue and we need to be there for them. People can get through the dark times, and most of us experience them at one time or another.”
Be assured too that the money raised from sales of ‘Speed of Sound, Sound of Mind’ will be going to exactly where it is needed, and Roger is happy to give me a couple of examples.
“Help for Heroes is running one specific programme, called Hidden Wounds. This majors on PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and supports those who might not have physical injuries to show from their military service, but they definitely have some pretty big scars in a mental sense.”
Roger is also part of H4H’s Band of Brothers network which offers lifelong access to support and opportunities for the wounded, injured and sick to meet each other and share experiences. The membership is made up of veterans and serving personnel who have suffered a permanently career limiting or career ending injury or illness directly attributable to service.
The second benefactor is the Scottish Association of Mental Health which is Scotland’s leading mental health charity.
“SAMH works incredibly hard every day to ensure that people are talking about mental health, using community based services for people with mental health problems, taking part in National programmes, developing policy and campaigning work and of course fundraising. Being Scottish myself, SAMH is very important to me.”
So there you have it, a worthy and important book that should not only fuel your aviation interest but help others, maybe even yourself and those closest to you. I can’t give it any greater endorsement than that.
To learn more about buying ‘Speed of Sound, Sound of Mind’ check out the links to Facebook and Amazon, below:
* Statistics courtesy of the Samaritans website
Gareth Stringer would like to thank Roger Cruickshank