The day started out like any other normal day, here in rainy North Devon. The wind was howling away and the rain was lashing against the windows.
I jumped in the car at the request of Gautam Lewis, Founder and Director of Freedom in the Air (FITA).
You see, after I had a couple of exceptional flying lessons at Flight Training London (FTL), I had sent off an application for the 2015 Freedom in the air PPL scholarship. FITA wanted to work with FTL because they have a great attitude towards making aviation more inclusive and gender equal. Which is why FITA took their hand controls and expertise about teaching disabled people to fly to FTL.
The scholarship has been funded by FITA; with further funding being provided by the wonderful people at PHAB, who work tirelessly to give all sorts of amazing opportunities to people with disabilities. And for FTL to provide the flight training to me in their Piper PA28 fitted with the Vision Air hand controls..Yippeeee…!!!
Not expecting to get too far with the application, I was invited up to Elstree Aerodrome, for a interview and a flight with Gautam, to help demonstrate the hand controls used in the aircraft.
As I arrived at Elstree, I was greeted by Gautam himself, Rebecca from PHAB and Ivan and Tamsyn from the flying school. After a quick introduction and being asked a few questions about the desire to become a pilot and why I applied, I got the opportunity to go flying with Gautam. This is the part where he gets to demonstrate exactly how flying with a lower limb disability works. We board the aircraft and wave goodbye to everyone else on the ground. Gautam fires up the engine and taxis out to the runway. After we receive our take off clearance, Gautam gives the aircraft full power and we shoot down the runway and into the sky!
After a few minutes, we level out and follow our planned route made earlier on the ground. After discussing a little about Gautams experience with learning to fly and how he gained his PPL, we get ready to do majorly steep turn over the countryside! With the fields below, looking up at me through the window, Gautam steers the plane back on course and we level off again!
With my heart in my mouth and feeling somewhat sick, but with the adrenaline pumping; He gives me the news! I’ve been offered the scholarship! The chance to be taught how to pilot this very aircraft! WOW, what a feeling. At first, I’m not sure what to say or how to feel, but as we return to the airfield, just to make it all the more sweet; we get clearance to do a touch and go! We touch down on the runway and then instantly power back up the engine, before taking off again and doing a circuit before a perfect landing using the hand controls to put us right back on the ground.
We taxi back to the flying school and as we get out of the plane, there is a little celebratory spread of tea and cake laid on by Tamsyn. It turns out; everyone was in on the surprise! The sneaky lot. As the magnitude of what I’m about to undertake, becomes clear, I’m so incredibly excited but also quite nervous. Will I be good enough, will I be able to pull it off? Still feeling a little queasy from the excitement of it all, I pass up the offer of cake, but we all hug it out and celebrating ensues! After a lovely evening of celebrating and watching planes take off and land in the sunset. I start the long drive back to North Devon, to finish university and begin my theoretical part of the training. Watch this space for further blogs on my time at CATS aviation in Luton, where I will be doing the ground school with Matt and of my flying lessons at Elstree.
By Anna Takken | Freedom in the Air Phab 2015 Private Pilot Licence Scholar