No obstacle is too big to overcome for someone dedicated and determined to do whatever they want to achieve. That exactly was what Douglas Bader of Royal Air Force did when he proved himself to be an excellent pilot during World War II despite lacking something: a pair of legs. Bader was a double-amputee, but that was not the only remarkable thing about him.

The Unruly Child

Douglas Bader was born in St. John’s Wood in London on February 21, 1910, to a civil engineer dad named Frederick Roberts Bader and his wife, Jessie Scott MacKenzie. When World War I broke, his father saw action as part of the Royal Engineers, where he both earned the rank of major and injuries from combat. These wounds caused complications that resulted in his father’s death.

His mother was remarried to the Reverend Ernest William Hobbs, who, despite being mild-mannered, did not become the father that Bader needed. His mom did not care that much either and would always send him to his grandparents. As a result, Bader grew to be a headache, unruly child. One time, he accidentally shot a local lady through a bathroom window with his air gun. Another one was when he was shot in the shoulder at point-blank range by his brother Derick after an argument about how painful a pellet shot would be.

When he was sent to St. Edward’s School for his secondary education, he found a channel to release his aggressive energy by playing rugby. He turned out to be really good at it as he enjoyed the physical battles with bigger and older opponents. His sports interests, unbeknownst to him yet, would also be used during his time in the military service later in his life, as he would play for the Royal Air Force (RAF) cricket team against the Army, and then cricket in a German POW when he was captured in 1941, regardless of his disability.

He, Who Dared The Devil

His interest in aviation began when at the age of 13, his aunt Hazel’s fiance, who was an RAF Flight Lieutenant, introduced him to an Avro 504. Later, he would study and get accepted as a cadet at RAF Cranwell.

In 1928, Douglas Bader joined the RAF as an officer cadet at the Royal Air Force College Cranwell. His love for sports and extremes continued, as he became fond of hockey, boxing, and motorcycle racing which was prohibited. He was caught participating in such activities that he was almost expelled, apart from his poor class examinations performance, coming in 19th out of 21 in his class.

In 1930, Bader was commissioned into No. 23 Squadron Royal Air Force as a pilot officer, and that’s where he even became more of a daredevil than he already was, flying dangerous stunts that were obviously unauthorized. Specifically, there was a strict order not to perform aerobatics below 610 meters. To Bader, it was a rule that was unnecessary.

And so, on December 14, 1931, in Reading Aero Club, Bader attempted to do some low-flying aerobatics at Woodley Airfield while riding a Bulldog Mk. IIA, K1676. He flew too low, and the tip of the left-wing touched the ground, resulting in his aircraft cartwheeling and being smashed to pieces. The doctors who attended him, despite being top-notch, had no choice but to amputate both of his legs— one above and one below his knees.