#YouHaveControl | My name is Kim and I am a through knee-amputee, and have been now, for just over a year; before which time, I was stuck at home.
Through the closed world of ‘home living’ I was keen to get out and do something to re-ignite my passions and hunger. I searched high and low online for things to do, when I came across The Douglas Bader Foundation (DBF) and Freedom In The Air (FITA).
FITA enables people with disabilities to fly high, and of course Douglas Bader was the first person with disabilities to fly aeroplanes – well actually, Spitfires..one of the most iconic aeroplanes in the world. And a plane that once saved Britain some might argue. Because of DBF and FITA, I was able to ‘Reach for the Skies’ The financial generosity of DBF has enabled me to have my first flying lesson through FITA; Lucky ol’ me!
A month later and I’m on my way to Elstree Airport (EGTR) in North London. That day was sooo exciting! All sorts of thoughts ran through my head, mainly if I was going to get into the plane and be able to control it, would I be sick?, and of course, was it going to be scary?!
FITA operates from Elstree (EGTR). They have Cessna and Piper aeroplanes fitted with hand controls for people like me, who use wheelchairs, or, for those that have a range of lower limb disabilities.
I entered FTL’s base and after some introductions, my amazing instructor Ivan gave me a brief description of the effects of controls on how airplanes work. I had done a bit of research beforehand; so it was easy to remember fortunately! Then it was time….time to fly HIGH …aaargh! I felt like electricity was running through my veins and charging me up – a level of excitement that I hadn’t felt before.
That day just before Christmas, was freezing cold, and looking miserable; under 3 jackets as I rolled up to the plane. A Piper PA28 Warrior, fitted with the Vision Air hand control; to me looked gorgeous, not too small, not too big, just perfect and has 4 seats. I tried to persuade my mother – who had kindly driven me to have my first flying lesson, to come up, but she’s terrified of heights – when she went up the Eiffel Tower she only got to the first floor then threw herself on the floor crying! Alas, it was just Ivan and me. I was so happy that I could easily get into the plane, you just sort of shimmy up the wing.
Ivan attached this seemingly simple hand control to the foot pedals so that I can control the direction of the plane on the ground and in the air of course. Instead of using my feet to push the pedals left and right. I use my hand instead, simple really.
It’s such a clever piece of kit, when I meet the creator I’ll definitely be giving them the biggest box of chocolates! Anyway, after a quick fuel-up and pre-flight checks, it was time to go!
Woohoo! I was VERY nervous, and so many things ran through my mind; would I going to hate it? Would I be sick? I had been told the wind were very choppy so I was on guard.
As Ivan applied full throttle, we sped up the runway, within seconds we were in the air, a bit of turbulence, but nothing major, so, phew!
Once we leveled off at 1800 feet, the air was still a bit choppy so we decided to climb up to 2500ft. Again full power and up we went.
The views were extraordinary, the wind calmed, the sun shone and it was like my own special world in the sky!
I had to choose a spot on the horizon in relation to the cockpit window, which would keep the plane straight and level, and steadily made our way in that direction. Naturally, when learning something new, at first its a little tricky to get used to, especially if you’re used to driving a car, but after a few goes, and patient instruction from Ivan, you get the hang of it and you feel pretty cool! Yes, its pretty cool to be an aviatrix..
In control of a plane all by yourself gives you a sense of Freedom – of being alive, with nothing holding you back.
My learning curve that day was steep and I realise now that was because Ivan is a incredible instructor. He has dual controls which he uses to show me different exercises, but can also correct some of my attempt, but generally you’re the one flying the plane – and I was surprised just how much control Ivan gave me on lesson 1.
For the first time in years I felt ‘normal’.
I felt I was doing something ‘normal’ non-disabled people would kill experience, and another first for me, my mind wasn’t on my phantom limb pain anymore, it was worth it just for that! I was so happy, I couldn’t stop grinning, (insert photo of Kim side shot in control of plane smiling) but trying to be cool as Ivan took pictures of me that I would share with my family afterwards!
I got to turn the plane left and right, climb, descend and my favorite part – doing steep 60-degree turns, which is like spiraling round and round which is awesome! I learnt so much in such a short space of time, but as they say, ‘time flies when you’re having fun!’ Coming in to land was pretty amazing, the crosswind made it difficult to land so, in simple terms, the plane flies sideward; with its nose heading into the direction of the wind, which was not the same direction as the runway. Somehow Ivan gently kisses the wheels down onto the tarmac. He’s an expert and it’s clear to me that he has great experience teaching disabled people to fly aeroplanes.
I definitely want to continue learning to fly. ITS BRILLIANT, AWESOME, UNBELIEVABLE, you name it, it was incredible.
When a good thing ends, it makes everyone feel sad, including me. I had to go to my wheelchair from the sky. Not a feeling I liked, however, I felt more positive about how I could start to rebuild my life.
I got my first certificate (insert photo of certificate)!
I was sad to leave, but so happy to feel alive and on top of the world.
I’d done something not many people get to experience and achieved a dream. Now roll on the next lessons because I’m going take the world by storm!
Until the next time world..
FITA is committed to opening horizons for people with disabilities so that they can fly higher socially, physically and professionally.
More detail about The Douglas Bader Foundation unit is available at http://www.douglasbaderfoundation.com