In the air, we are all the same!

Well, what a week! On Monday and Tuesday (19th & 20th) I was finally doing something that I had been wanting to start for nearly a year, something that I really enjoyed when I tried it and something overall that I wanted to do when I was kid. From a very young age I wanted to fly. I realised that I wasn’t going to achieve the qualifications to be an RAF Pilot and so I looked in to the possibility of flying within the Army Air Corps. This would be possible if aptitude tests were passed and any selection process passed. I decided to apply for the AAC but after three days introduction to the Army at Bovngton Camp in Dorset which was the home of the Junior Leaders training, my Eczema flared up and so ended my journey. From that point I had put the idea of flying out of my head. That was until I was approached at RAF Brize Norton by a lady who works for the Flying Scholarships for Disabled People charity. She asked me to apply for a scholarship which I did but was not fortunate enough to be awarded one (apparently I had enough confidence to share amongst the group so wasn’t in need of a scholarship). Now however, I knew that it was possible for me, even in my paralysed state, to be able to learn to fly, and I WANTED TO! A short time after my telephone call to let me know that I had been unsuccessful in my application to FSFDP, I received a call from Julie (the lady from the FSFDP charity) to ask me to meet her at a flying club near Cirencester which I did. It was here that I was introduced to a gentleman called John who had founded something called Flying for Freedom. Here I was suited up and helped in to a microlight and taken for a flight. Now I thought that I would just be a passenger but I actually took control of the aircraft and carried out some general flying manoeuvres before landing. The instructor who had taken me up spoke to John and the next thing I knew, I had been given a flying log and told that I had been given a bank of hours in which to qualify as a microlight pilot. I was unbelievably pleased and excited of the prospect that, although a different type of aircraft, there was a real possibility of me becoming a pilot. AMAZING!

With financial constraints, the time ticked by without me being able to travel the miles to the airfield to undertake my training but then, some eight months later I got in touch with John again to ask about me starting my training. I had kept in touch with him so as he did not think that I was not interested and he was happy with my situation. Over the time though things had changed and I had to be interviewed to be awarded the opportunity once again. I was lucky enough for this to happen and a short couple of months later the date was set for me to start. On Monday my instructor was Dave. Dave is a very busy man partly because he owns the flying club where I am learning to fly and has much admin to do in relation to it but also because of the many other things that he is involved with. Anyway one thing he definitely is, is an excellent instructor. He took me through the checks of the aircraft and really made sure that I could see what he was describing that needed checking amongst other subjects and also took me flying. I followed his instruction and really felt comfortable with what I was doing. This was also the first time that I had been in the front seat of the aircraft. It was not only an amazing lesson covering quite a few things, but it was also fantastic weather. Towards the end of the lesson he treated me to some cloud surfing. There were circular rainbows in the clouds and whilst we did not fly through them, we danced around the tops of them. I really wished that I had taken my Muvi camera with me to share with you the views that I had on that day, it was simply brilliant with stunning views. I took control again and we returned to the airfield where I handed control back to Dave and he landed us safely down. I taxied us back to the hangar and after helping me out and in to my wheelchair once again, we debriefed.

Tuesday I had a new instructor, Rob. Another very nice bloke and excellent instructor. He briefed me of the exercises that he wanted to go through and after assisting me in to the aircraft I taxied us to an area where we would carry out our checks. Here he talked me through the things that I would need to do and explained clearly how I would do things and why. With this done, I taxied us to our grass runway strip and we awaited clearance to take off. It was a very short time after being in the air that I took control and my lesson began. I had to carry out straight and level flight, climbs, descents and then a mixture of all three but keeping the same airspeed. This was not perfect on the first attempt, nor the 2nd or 3rd but each time I got better. Each time I improved losing only a very small amount of height or gaining only a small amount of speed. In any case this was lesson two and I was happy with my achievement. Finally we returned to the airfield and after taxiing back to the hangar and getting back in to my chair we debriefed. I had had another fantastic day.

Wednesday saw the weather change and so it was decided not to undertake my lesson for the day and would have to see how the weeks weather progressed. Thursday saw me back with Kartforce. This trial would see us put in to pairs and racing in an endurance race of 150 minutes. I was unable to take anyone with me to help so I got in touch with Dave, the owner of Kartforce to let him know but he told me to come anyway. As it was I was able to help more this time with getting me in and out of the Kart, not much, but the staff were happy to help me meaning that I could indeed race. It was really hard work I don’t mind admitting. As I have no working muscles below my “moobs” (since I gave up running I have put on a few tonnes), I have no way of keeping myself upright in the turns, and the turns are sharp. I therefore find myself leaning out of the Kart. Now some drivers do this deliberately to put the weight on to the wheels that are going in to the turn to aid with grip. This is great but they then have the muscles to right themselves for the next turn…I do not and believe me it can get a bit interesting! The first stint of driving that I did was not too bad. My Gentlemanly conduct was taken advantage of quite severely pushing me from our starting position of 5th down to 9th but then I turned on the racing attitude and when I came in to change we were 2nd. My team mate did really well and when he came in we just lost a place to third on the changeover. My second stint saw the field getting a bit lively. The whole non contact thing went out of the window for a few of the drivers and at times was more akin to bumper cars. I fatigued on my second stint, some of this was due to the bumper car driving which resulted in me being put in to the wall on around three occasions. One of the occasions resulting in the red flag being put out while the staff lifted me back in to the Kart having ended up laying out of the side of the Kart. Never the less I continued to race until with a half hour left I had to go in. I was struggling to be able to stay in the Kart on the flat out bends and so decided to hand the race over to Leon, my team mate. At the time that I came in I had lost us three places leaving us in 6th but Leon was all over it like a tramp on hot chips and quickly passed the first Kart getting us in to 5th. The end of the race saw us finishing 4th but apparently 7 laps behind the winners. We can only assume that this may be down to the Kart transponders not swapping properly as there is no way that either of us were lapped 7 times and as the difference between the times for all of the Karts being less than 2 seconds, and the difference between us and the first place being only 1 second maximum, there simply would not have been the time for us to fall back 7 laps. Anyway, despite the disappointment from us both feeling a little robbed we agreed that we had had a great days racing and would be back for the third round of try outs. I really did fancy trying racing having read about paralysed and seriously injured people doing it but didn’t think that I would get the chance. I had expressed interest elsewhere but never got the offer or opportunity so when Kartforce put the opportunity there, it was a no brainer. Let us see where this road takes us!

It was back to the airfield for more flying lessons on Friday with Rob again. We revised the previous lesson and the theory behind it and then went on to the theory of the next lesson…turns. We got me in to the aircraft once more and this time Rob talked me through the checks before we would taxi to our final check area. I had control as we taxied to our check area and again when I taxied us to the runway. With clearance given by the tower Rob gave full power and he got us off of the ground. Almost the very second that we got off of the ground he handed control to me and I flew the aircraft to the area of airspace that I would be using for the lesson. I had to carry out turns of no more than 30 degree bank and stay at the altitude and airspeed that I was at before the turn. From here I had to learn to carry out a turn whilst in the full power climb and also in the glide descent. Having carried out several of the turns at the different types Rob would then tell me to turn to the right or left and then to climb, level off or descend. With the direction changes again being told it was a really good exercise. The wind and rising air that caused some buffeting also gave me good experience as to how much work it can sometimes be to stop the angle of bank getting too much as you fight the forces. With the exercise and lesson complete we headed back to the airfield with me lining us up and flying the approach and descent until Rob took over control and touched us down before handing back to me to taxi us back to the hangar.

So as you can see, a busy week covering many miles and really working my body and mind. The Karting really does let me compete against others. I am aware of my paraplegia as I am unable to stay completely upright like able bodied do but I still have the adrenaline pumping round fuelling the competitive spirit that I have always had. It is great to be able to get out and race, to feel that rush as you tear around the track, something as I said that I really didn’t think I would get to do again so THANK YOU Kartforce, thank you for giving me the opportunity and I hope that I may be fortunate enough to race with you in the future. The Microlighting is a different thing. It is one of only a couple of things that I have done where I genuinely can forget that I am paralysed. Once I am in the aircraft no one would be able to tell that I was paralysed, I don’t have to use my feet or legs, it is all on the hands which is the same for the Karting but in the Microlight I am not having to fall about on the turns. When climbing I am simply resting against the backrest of my seat. Descending I am not leaning forward, partly because of the wind pushing against me. Turning I stay upright partly because that is how the seat keeps me. It is only when I come to getting out of the seat and in to my chair that I am then a paraplegic once more. There is one thing that a lady who I met through the Microlighting said to me after we had been talking about the flying. What she said was so very true;

                 “In the air, we are all the same!

Good afternoon all.

Leave a Reply