The crazy-but-true story of a WWII fighter pilot who said his artificial legs saved his life

Fighter pilot Douglas Bader lifts his artificial leg to get into a Spitfire fighter ready to lead a flight over London in 1945, commemorating the fifth anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

(CNN)This could be one of the most bizarre "Jeopardy!" clues ever:

Category: British heroes
Clue: World War II fighter ace who once had his prosthetic legs stolen by a young Richard Branson
Answer: "Who is Douglas Bader?"
    Branson, founder of the Virgin Group of companies, revealed this mischievous interaction with Bader in a podcast honoring the war hero for the Royal Air Force Museum. The billionaire business mogul met Bader as a child when the famous pilot visited Branson's aunt, a close friend of his, years after World War II.
    "I can always remember this very strong two-armed man dragging himself across the lawn after me to grab me and grab his legs back," Branson recounted in the podcast. "(He was) somebody that all of us young people after the war looked up to and respected, and was a great hero of mine."
    British fighter pilot Douglas Bader pictured on his plane in October 1940.
    Bader had his legs amputated after a flying accident in late 1931. Already an RAF aerobatics pilot, he crashed his Bristol Bulldog biplane while performing a low-flying stunt, reportedly on dare from a colleague.
    Because of his injuries, his right leg was amputated almost immediately, and the left a few days later, according to the RAF Museum website.
    His log book, written that day, December 14, 1931, described the crash with two terse phrases, "Crashed slow-rolling near ground. Bad show." He was 21 years old.
    Though he almost died in the days after the crash, the young pilot's resilience and perseverance were soon on display.
    He asked for and was soon fitted with a pair of artificial legs.
    The prosthetics were made of metal, tin in this case. Bader's 1956 biopic, "Reach for the Sky," depicts his single-mindedness to function on his new limbs, pushing past the pain they gave him, putting extra therapy sessions with doctors.
    Bader was up and about on his tin legs just six months after the horrific crash, driving a car and trying to dance.
    He also showed he could capably fly an airplane again, but an RAF medical board ruled he was not fit for service as a pilot, according to the museum's website.
    Bader took a job with the Asiatic Petroleum Company, which would later become Shell Oil, working in the aviation department.
    But he always needed to push himself, and soon discovered golf as a way he could do so.
    "Reach for the Sky" depicts him taking up the game, first swinging and missing and collapsing on the tee box. But he'd go on to become a four-handicap golfer. Consider that the average golf handicap these days is around 15 -- and the lower the number, the better the player -- you can see how good Bader got.

    A yearning for war

    Golf was no substitute for flying, however. As the clouds of war in Europe gathered in 1939, Bader petitioned to get back into the RAF and the cockpit of a fighter plane.
    Jill Lewis, Bader's sister-in-law, said that the pilot was actually eager for war.
    "He was very excited, indeed. He was the only person in our household who was absolutely longing for it to come because he said, 'They'll have to have me now,'" she told interviewers for the 1996 TV documentary "Secret Lives: Douglas Bader."
    Bader was right. On September 3, 1939, Britain declared war on Nazi Germany. Five months later, Bader was flying the iconic Supermarine Spitfire fighter, according to the RAF Museum.
    Squadron Leader Douglas Bader, front center fourth from right,  stands beside his Hawker Hurricane Mk1 with the men of Royal Air Force No. 242 Squadron during the Battle of Britain in early September 1940 at RAF Duxford near Cambridge, England.
    He scored his first combat victory in early June, shooting down a German plane over France.
    In a few short weeks, he was given command of a squadron, the 242, a group of mostly Canadians who had been deployed to France before it was overrun by the Nazi armies. The ranks of the Canadian squadron were in disarray after their hurried retreat back to Britain, according to a history written for the Royal Canadian Air Force.
    When the 242 squadron arrived back in Britain, its commanding officer at the time didn't even report in to RAF leaders. "No. 242 was in bad odour," wrote the report's author, Hugh Halliday.
    But getting the 242 back in action was the perfect assignment for Bader, and his relentless drive to be the best.
    "Bader immediately transformed his unit, concentrating on improving his pilots' flying, teamwork and confidence," the RAF Museum says.
    "Reach for the Sky" shows Bader strong-arming, cajoling, and calling in favors to get the 242 the equipment it needed and the combat he craved.
    On a 1982 TV show saluting Bader, "This is Your Life," ground crew member Tubby Mays recalled Bader's drive and fearlessness.
    Bader's Hawker Hurricane fighter had taken hits in the cockpit and a round had actually gone through his flight suit, destroying his chewing gum. But the pilot was eager to get back into action, Mays said.
    "All he wanted to do was refuel, rearm, replenish chewing gum and up spirits away," Mays said.
    That kind of persistence paid off for Bader and the 242.

    Combat successes

    "The squadron's first major success came on 30 August when they claimed 12 enemy aircraft, of which Bader shot down two," the RAF Museum says.
    In a letter dated September 22, pilot William McKnight notes the 242's success.