On Friday 23rd September, I (as someone with a pretty severe physical impairment) had the opportunity to fly a plane. How you may ask. Well let me rewind a bit and tell you.
I had known about the Muscle Help Foundation for a while, mainly through social media. But when an email came through saying they were looking for “muscle warriors” to take part in the Flying Programme, I thought I would investigate.
After a quick look it seemed that I wasn’t yet too old to participate and the application pretty simple. Before I had time to think about what I was doing (i.e. attempting to get in and fly a tiny plane), I had sent in my application.
The next day and I got a phonecall saying I was successful and in a couple of weeks I’d be heading off on the programme. I got the forms through and signed my life away.
The experience would take place over two days in Farnborough. So on the morning on the 22nd September, I was up bright and early to catch a train.
We were staying in the Village Hotel Farnborough and on arrival we were instantly greeted with the warmest of welcomes by all the staff and volunteers of MHF. Once all the Muscle Warriors had arrived, we headed on a super long drive (probably 0.5 miles) to Farnborough airport. After getting settled in the main building, we were given a quick chat about the history of the airport and then it was lunch time.
Post-lunch it was time for a tour of the airport. We went to see the hangers and the fire station and even had a go at watering down a fire (i.e. grass). As the final part of the tour, all the cars went convoy style down the runway. That was a tad scary!
Soon we were heading back to the hotel for some chill out time before our “evening banquet”. Our chill out time comprised of a glass of wine from the complimentary bottle left in our room. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the “banquet” but it was pretty awesome. It was a dark room with massive table complete with candelabras. We also heard from an amazing guest speaker.
Everyone headed to bed pretty early ready for the exciting following day.
For the Friday, I was joined by my mum and grandparents as I knew they wouldn’t want to miss it. So we all headed to the nearly Blackbushe airport, home to Aerobility who would be running the flying programme.
On seeing the air field, it was clear just how small the planes were (panic mode!!).
We had a quick chat with the Aerobility staff and then we were off into the hanger. I was third to fly so we all just chilled in the hanger chatting and I was on a mission to spread the word about Trailblazers.
I was relieved to see the hanger full of hoists and cushions and everything you could possibly need as a physically disabled person. Just before lunch it was my turn. So I headed up to the plane and a robotic hoist was bought over. It was totally remote controlled which was very bizarre. Soon I was up in the air and being hoisted over the plane wing. The staff helping were amazing and clearly had so much experience and I didn’t feel remotely unsafe.
Now, I did have quite a bit of trouble getting safe and comfortable. This was mainly because of my annoyingly floppy head. But after a while I was safe and secure (unfortunately this didn’t last long). However we were off with my mum and granddad in the back. The momentum of take off caused my head to flop back so my mum acted as my head support for the rest of the flight. Once we were level, I was allowed to take control. Now due to the way I was sitting, I couldn’t get both hands on the control so I was a one-handed pilot. Luckily the controls were fairly lightweight so I managed to steer and I think go up a bit two. The actual pilot always had his hands near his controls just in case I needed help.
The view was incredible. We even saw George Clooney’s new house and had a perfect view of the London skyline. We were soon heading back to earth and landing is always the bit that scares me. But, despite a bit of turbulence, it was a very smooth landing and I barely moved.
Once stopped near the hanger, I was quickly reconnected to the hoist and slowly lifted back towards my chair. I was pretty glad to be back in my lovely supportive chair. I would love the chance to do it again because I think I’d have a better chance of getting comfy and therefore having two hands available for the controls.
We all had lunch, although none of us were particularly hungry (I think just high on adrenaline). For the rest of the day we watched other Muscle Warriors take off and land. By about 4pm, we were all back on earth in one piece so we had a final photo opp and were given the famous Muscle Dreams gift bag. We were soon saying goodbye and heading in separate directions.
It was an amazing couple of days and I still can’t really believe I flew a plane (one-handed). I have to say a huge thank to everyone at MHF and Aerobility. I’d thoroughly recommend MHF to anyone and if you don’t fit the criteria, why not head straight to Aerobility and book a private lesson? Carpe diem and all that jazz!