An alternative view
PUBLISHED: 11:24 10 October 2014 | UPDATED: 11:24 10 October 2014
An ex-RAF flier has got back in the cockpit to take aerial pictures of North Devon with stunning results, as he explains to CAROLINE BRAMWELL
When former military pilot, Mark Fowler, had to retire from service at the age of 38 due to a plane accident he thought his days of flying were over. But his passion for aerial photography of North Devon has taken him to new heights and helped him to overcome his fear of ever getting back in an aircraft.
After joining the military at the age of 21, Mark embraced the world of flying and describes it as “the most amazing career full of experiences”.
“I was a really happy pilot and it was the best time I ever had. It was more than just a career; it was a lifestyle. I loved every aspect of the lifestyle and would volunteer for additional services such as being a Flight Safety Officer and Intelligence Officer.”
During his service, Mark initially flew Hercules as a co-pilot on 47 Squadron and progressed to Captain on 30 Squadron. As a pilot he had his fair share of incidents and accidents, and received an Award for Bravery in 1997 when, in Saudi Arabia, the ailerons on his Hercules jammed open and he managed to bring the plane to safety with 60 passengers on board. This was a freak accident that no-one had ever have envisaged happening and therefore had never been simulated. But a cockpit fire in 2000 brought all his dreams to an end, and Mark was discharged with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Depression.
Fourteen years on and Mark has been back up in an aeroplane, but this time taking some stunning photographs of the North Devon coastline and landscapes. He explains: “I am very ‘mission accomplished’ and owed it to myself to go up again. But now I see the world through different eyes. I no longer have to fly the plane, check the instruments and carry out observations; I can now appreciate what I can see around me and I have seen the landscape as I have never seen it before.
“Heddons Mouth, for example, is a fantastic valley and the perspective of viewing it from above is amazing. All the way down the coast we have the most glorious 1,000ft high cliffs – they just blow you away! And one of my favourite images is of the west coast of Lundy that faces out into the Atlantic.”
When he was a pilot, Mark always carried a basic 35mm ‘point and shoot’ type camera in his pocket for taking a few snaps, including the occasional ‘selfie’. However, now he has a full professional kit, consisting of Nikon Pro Cameras, it has really given his photography the ‘edge’. He adds: “If you buy the best equipment it gives you the opportunity to progress. I wouldn’t be able to get these shots, and those I take at air displays, if I didn’t have the right cameras.”
It’s not only the coastline that Mark will photograph – he has taken some fascinating images of the town of Barnstaple in North Devon, from the air. From this perspective you can see how the town has grown from its original purpose of being a trading port.
“From the air you can clearly see the old wall of Barnstaple,” says Mark. “You can see how the town has sprawled up the valley and how the structure of the town has been built around some cottages and the Pannier Market.
“Since taking these photographs I have been intrigued with the history of the town, and the photographs paint a fantastic image of how the town has grown over the years. You can clearly see The Strand and the ‘heart shape’ of Boutport Street.”
Life for Mark is now a far cry from where he expected to be. If he had not had the accident and been discharged he would have moved into commercial flying. He had been through the training and gained his licence to fly commercial aircraft. The accident put paid to his future career, but it is not just his career plan that has had to change, it is his whole lifestyle.
He says: “Flying is not just a career, it’s a way of life. You live and breathe for the military and your flying.”
But Mark’s passion for aeroplanes and photography has helped him to not only fly again – albeit not as the pilot – but to turn his love of landscape photography into a new dimension. Now he brings the spectacular vistas of North Devon to everyone with a totally new perspective.
“It’s the last thing I ever expected to be doing,” says Mark. “I thought I’d had my fill of flying.”