A Royal Air Force Voyager has taken 291 cuddly toy giraffes on a special flight for charity in memory of a nine-year-old girl who died from a rare form of leukaemia.
The flight was organised by Flight Lieutenant Mark Scott, of No 10 Squadron RAF, after learning about Ian Conway, an aviation spotter, who set up a not-for-profit company called Giraffes on Tour in memory of his daughter Louise who died in 2013 of leukaemia Philadelphia B which has a 50/50 survival rate.
Ian spoke with BFBS the Forces Station broadcaster Gemma-Leigh James about how his daughter would have reacted to the Flight of the Giraffes, saying: "Louise was about fun, the little fun things we'd do.
"Me getting dressed up as a giraffe, doing 'Oops Upside Your Head' on the floor at the terminal at Brize Norton – Louise would have really been entertained by that."
Giraffe teddies became a way for the Conway family and the aviation community around them to remember Louise, with many pilots, including military ones, flying with teddies in her memory.
Louise's giraffe teddy, Geoffrey, has since flown with the Battle Of Britain Memorial Flight, the US Air Force, the Indian Air Force, the RAF Falcons, in a Swiss Air Force F/A-18C Hornet and for eight-and-a-half hours in a U2-Dragon Lady, reaching more than 70,000ft.
The giraffe teddy has also been deployed to the Falkland Islands, sailed on aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth for more than seven months, joined fundraising team 'Raring To Row' as they raced across the Atlantic Ocean and even trekked 400km across the Antarctic Circle in April 2020.
All of these extraordinary adventures were to raise money for Great Ormond Street Hospital.
The most recent escapade – Flight of The Giraffes – was an air-to-air refuelling sortie that even had its own call sign, Giraffe291.
Supporters of Giraffes On Tour were encouraged to pay for their teddy to have a seat on the RAF Voyager to raise money for Great Ormond Street.
BFBS the Forces Station in Brize Norton held a competition to find a name for a branded giraffe teddy that could join the other 290 stuffed animals, with Hercules coming out on top.
On the day of the flight, security was a top priority at RAF Brize Norton with each giraffe teddy being issued a ticket, having to queue up at passport control and taking a trip into the x-ray machine to, in a very tongue-in-cheek way, check no stuffed animal was trying to smuggle anything on board.
Some teddies even had to step to one side to undergo additional checks with a metal detector.
Of course, nothing untoward was discovered, so flight Giraffe291 was good to go.
Flight Lieutenant Mark Scott, the flight's captain, was keen to get involved with the Giraffes On Tour fundraising when he saw that other aircraft were taking a giraffe teddy with them on flights in Louise's memory.
However, it wasn't all fun and games, as there was also the serious job of air-to-air refuelling to do.
But first, a bit of fun from Flt Lt Scott as he started the flight with a lighthearted announcement, saying: "Ladies and gentlemen, and giraffes, a very warm welcome on board this Royal Air Force Voyager, Giraffe Flight 291."
Just north of Norfolk, 16,000ft in the air and travelling at about 400mph, 23 fast jets needed to be refuelled, both Typhoons and F-35s – a crucial time for ultimate precision and accuracy.
Two of the aircraft, named Havoc and Rebel, are Typhoons from RAF Coningsby – one of which also had a teddy giraffe on board.
What's it like when there are three or four fast jets waiting to be refuelled?
Flt Lt Scott explains, saying: "They'll start off 1,000ft below us.
"We'll clear them to join and they'll come and climb up and sit next to our left-hand wing and that's, kind of, their waiting area and then, from there, we'll move them across behind the hoses to give them the fuel.
"Then when they've got their fuel, we'll move them across to the right-hand wing to wait and then, once everyone's finished, we clear them to depart and they'll climb above us."
At the time of writing, the Flight of the Giraffes had raised more than £4,000.
Donations can be made to Giraffes On Tour's fundraising for Great Ormond Street Hospital, by visiting giraffesontour.co.uk.
Cover image: Teddy giraffes pose for a photo in front of an RAF Voyager before taking off on Flight Giraffe291 (Picture: RAF).