Wounded veteran receives huge boost in bid to become airline pilot

Joe Zipfel, who lives in Bowthorpe, is training with Wings for Warriors to become a commercial airline pilot

Joe Zipfel, who lives in Bowthorpe, is training with Wings for Warriors to become a commercial airline pilot - Credit: RC Snelling Charitable Trust

A wounded veteran who suffered life-changing injuries in a roadside bomb blast been handed a huge boost in his bid to become an airline pilot.

Joe Zipfel, originally from Thetford, served in the Royal Marines before the devastating attack brought his military career to an end.

Joe Zipfel, who grew up in Thetford, served in the Royal Marines before getting injured

Joe Zipfel, who grew up in Thetford, served in the Royal Marines before getting injured - Credit: Courtesy of Joe Zipfel

The commando-trained green beret was deployed once to Iraq and three times to Afghanistan between 2003 and 2008. 

But on the third deployment, he suffered lower limb fractures, nerve damage to his legs and a fractured spine after his vehicle was destroyed by an IED. 

Rehab for Mr Zipfel was long and painful, and he was medically discharged from the Marines in December 2012.

Joe Zipfel, who lives in Bowthorpe, served in Iraq and Afghanistan with the Royal Marines

Joe Zipfel, who lives in Bowthorpe, served in Iraq and Afghanistan with the Royal Marines - Credit: Courtesy of Joe Zipfel


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Having struggled for several years to adjust to civilian life, the former serviceman joined Wings for Warriors (W4W), a charity which gives injured personnel the chance to retrain as commercial pilots. 

"I've had various jobs since leaving the Marines, but nothing really  suited me," said Mr Zipfel.

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"I was looking for something in a position of responsibility; something that would challenge me.

Joe Zipfel, who lives in Bowthorpe, is training with Wings for Warriors to become a commercial airline pilot

Joe Zipfel, who lives in Bowthorpe, is training with Wings for Warriors to become a commercial airline pilot - Credit: RC Snelling Charitable Trust

"Before this I had absolutely no flying experience. I've been in helicopters and aircrafts, but had never flown them."

Now living in Bowthorpe, Mr Zipfel obtained his private pilot's license in July 2019, and has since passed all his commercial flying exams. 

His practical training - key to building up flying hours - is due to start next month.

Joe Zipfel. Picture: Supplied by Joe Zipfel

Joe Zipfel, originally from Thetford, pictured after he became a Royal Marine - Credit: Supplied by Joe Zipfel

And now the 36-year-old has received a £2,000 donation from the RC Snelling Charitable Trust, which will "make a huge difference" towards training costs.

Upon qualification, Mr Zipfel is safe in the knowledge he will have a career ready and waiting for him.

Holiday giant TUI has made a commitment to take on W4W pilots and train them for first officer roles. 

Joe Zipfel, from Thetford, was wounded on his third deployment with the Royal Marines

Joe Zipfel, from Thetford, was wounded on his third deployment with the Royal Marines - Credit: Courtesy of Joe Zipfel

From there, they could go on to captain their own plane. 

"To know you've got a job waiting for you at the end is amazing," added Mr Zipfel.

"With Covid I started to doubt whether it would happen, but TUI keep saying the offer still stands. 

"To leave the military and still have this opportunity is a dream come true for me. It's so important to me and my family."

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