Up Up And Away!

Philip Bell interviews Flight Lieutenant Richard Snowdon

Richard, it’s not often that we get to interview a military pilot in the pages of Creation magazine. Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

Well, I became a Christian 22 years ago and, as I approach the normal retirement age (55) in the RAF, I’m at the end of a flying career of almost 32 years. I’m married and have two grownup sons. Having done some preaching, teaching and writing over the years, my wife and I believe that, after leaving the RAF, the Lord would have me devote myself to these. 

Your career in the RAF, particularly flying various aircraft, is the sort of thing many young boys dream of doing. Was this the case for you too?

It certainly was! My father had been a fighter pilot in the RAF, flying Meteors and then Hunters. As a youngster, I was mad keen on anything to do with aircraft. I couldn’t wait to be old enough to join the Air Cadets and get my feet off the ground for the first time! I then gained my gliding wings, going on to win a Flying Scholarship that enabled me to qualify for a Private Pilot’s License at the age of 17. It was quite novel being licensed to fly a light aircraft before being qualified to drive a car! Nonetheless, due to the RAF’s stringent medical standards and my occasional mild hay fever, the transition to joining the RAF was not all plain sailing.

I gather that the first Gulf War (1990/91) was a significant time in your career, in more ways than one - you were not the same man coming out of that war?

That’s absolutely right. In those days, I had been living as if there were no God and that I was master of my own destiny. The world was essentially a playground, whose chief purpose was to please me, or so I thought. As far back as age 24 however, God had started to deal with me, though I had no idea it
was Him at the time. He gave me an increasingly powerful sense of unease and that something was very wrong in my life. Incredibly though, I struggled on for nearly 9 years in a vain attempt to continue getting satisfaction from a hedonistic lifestyle. After witnessing an Air Traffic Controller friend becoming a believer, and speaking to a Christian Hercules Pilot, I was uncomfortably challenged by their personal testimonies.

Gospel literature added to my disquiet as it stripped away my false, evolutionary worldview and replaced it with the alarming truth that I was a sinner under the wrath of a Holy God. I gradually began to connect my sufferings with my true standing before God. Gulf War 1 was my first experience of real war. The build-up to it concentrated my mind on the Gospel again. In Cyprus, whilst awaiting orders to “fly east”, God’s grace and mercy led me to turn to the Lord Jesus Christ, kneel in prayer and ask forgiveness for my sins. I shall never forget the peace and joy that soon flooded my soul as the burden of sin was lifted away, guilt was removed and a new life imparted. In an organisation like the RAF, you have obviously met many highly qualified and experienced personnel. They may sometimes ‘have their heads in the clouds’ during flights but these would presumably be people with their feet firmly on the ground as far as day to day life is concerned.

Were topics like creation and evolution on your colleagues’ radar?

I would have to say no, not for the most part. In fact, it was very rare to hear colleagues talking about such nitty-gritty issues. One colleague was an interesting exception though. On learning that I’d just become a Christian, he said to me, “Don’t tell me that you believe in Adam and Eve and that the Earth is only 6000 years old?” At that time, I simply didn’t know, but told him what I did know was that my sins had been forgiven as I trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ.