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APT & Sportability


Salisbury Journal - 4th August 2005

Life from a different perspective
Lesley Bates meets some of the disabled high flyers as they take to the skies


Graeme lands the plane.

Graeme Linskey takes to the skies
above Old Sarum, in a specially
adapted microlight plane.

GRAEME Linskey is going through his pre- flight checks. Sitting comfortably in the Shadow microlight, he works his way down the checklist before taxiing into position for take-off at OldSarum.

Moments later, he is soaring into the brilliant blue leaving us earth-bound mortals gazing enviously after him as he climbs above the Wiltshire countryside.

It is only when the 45-year-old lands an hour later and is assisted from the cockpit into the waiting wheelchair that it becomes apparent that Graeme is seriously disabled.

He broke his back in a motorcycling accident on Guy Fawkes Night 16 years ago.

Surfing the Internet one day, he came across Aviation for Paraplegics and Tetraplegics (APT) and now has his CAA Private Pilots Licence, one of APT's ten graduate pilots so far.

"Flying has changed my whole outlook - its the best thing I've done since the accident," he says.

"When you're flying, you're equal to anyone - you cannot get anything better than that."

Graeme has travelled from his home in the Isle of Man and is staying at one of APT's specially modified mobile homes at Old Sarum while he goes through a refresher course.

APT was founded in 1994 with the aim of teaching severely disabled people to fly using two specially adapted microlight aircraft, both based at Old Sarum airfield.

It was funded originally by a trust set up by wealthy businessman James Edmonds after his friend Trevor Jones broke his neck in a skiing accident.

Jones had been a naval helicopter pilot - he was the man who plucked Richard Branson from the sea when his Atlantic balloon flight ditched in the Irish Sea - but his accident left him paralysed from the neck down.

Using his flying experience, he worked out how to adapt a microlight so that someone with his level of disability could still operate it.

Edmonds personally financed two adapted microlights for different degrees of disability and funded the running of APT until 1998.

Since then grants from organisations like the National Lottery, Wiltshire and Swindon Community Foundation and the Gannett Foundation contribute towards the annual running costs of £26,000.

Thanks to the lottery funded Community Fund, the Trust can offer a free taster flying session and a limited number of bursaries to disabled applicants.

Tuition, hangarage and servicing of the microlights is all provided by Fiona Luckhurst and Raymond Proost, both qualified flying instructors, who run Shadow Aviation Ltd.

Raymond says there is very little difference between teaching an able-bodied or person with disability to fly.

"You need patience with both," he says.

"The only difference is getting in and out of the plane.

"The plane is like a flying wheelchair - thats the beauty of it."

When Fiona and Raymond agreed to work with APT, they asked next door neighbour, retired army officer Jack Simpson, to run the operation.

Now Jack is passionate about the benefits of the scheme, spreading the word to spinal units throughout the country on a regular basis.

Disability, he points out, could as easily be the result of a condition like multiple sclerosis, polio or spina bifida as spinal injury.

"I get a lot of satisfaction seeing the way our students progress - and not just the students, but the mums and dads and children seeing parents fly," he says.

Depending on their level of disability, not all of APT's students can gain their pilot's licence and go solo, but that does not diminish their achievement or the pleasure that someone like Jonathan Rudge takes in being able to leave their wheelchair several thousand feet below them.

Web designer Jonathan (45), who lives at East Gomeldon, was studying for a degree at St Andrew's University when he was involved in a car accident leaving him paralysed from the chest down.

"One evening two microlights came flying over me", he recalls.

He looked into the possibility of flying one, even visiting the factoy to adapting the aircraft but the manager was sceptical about the feasibility.

"Six months later, I heard that Trevor Jones had flown his modified Shadow across the Channel and had thought, "Wow, it can be done."

Jonathan contacted Trevor and went to visit him. "He let me sit in his plane and see that I was comfortable," Jonathan says.

"Later I had a trial flight in his plane, but I was concerned about cost.

"He told me about APT starting up."

Jonathan was one of APT's first customers and has been flying regularly with them since then, using a special hoist to get him in and out of the cockpit.

The day we spoke he was disappointed not to be going up but very hot weather is as problematic as crosswinds and other adverse weather conditions for Jonathan. With minimal mobility, unable to open and close the cockpit himself, the microlight becomes an oven while he goes through pre-flight checks and waits in the burning sun for take-off clearance.

"But the main thing is the flying - the challenge of the thing mentally and physically," he says.

"It's fantastic to be able to take control when you've been in a wheelchair and depend on helpers.

"It feels like freedom to some extent.

"It's a real thrill and makes you more confident - and it gives you something to talk about at parties."

APT can't give people like Jonathan and Graeme their legs back, but it has given them wings instead.

APT can be contacted at Hangar 3, Old Sarum Airfield (tel 01722 410744), email: [email protected] or click onto