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Brian Thwaites

From Hang Gliding to Powered Flight......

As I sat in the A.P.T. Shadow Microlight to do my ½ hour assessment flight, on top of all the excitement, I remember vividly a sense of disappointment that it had been 10 years since my accident, and this was the first serious attempt I had made to continue my flying ambitions, which had ended, very abruptly, on March 17th 1991 when I sustained serious spinal injuries while hang gliding. So much time had been wasted, but like everybody else who has been in this position, there is an initial time for the healing process to "do its thing" and then the realisation that things will never be the same as they were before takes a while to get used to, and before you know where you are, years have passed you by.

Well thank heavens for people like Jack Simpson, and all the other staff at the A.P.T.

I heard about them purely by chance during a conversation with my occupational therapist, who, on hearing that I was mad about flying, said she had heard about a flying school that specialised in teaching people with disabilities to fly. She managed to dig out the relevant information, and armed with the telephone number, I called Jack the same day. Jack was, as he always is, pure gold! He gave me all the information I needed, on top of truckloads of encouragement, and then left the ball in my court. Due to other circumstances, change of career etc, another 18 months passed after the initial call, but once I had re sorted my life, I decided that the time had come to get myself back into the air.

Another call to Jack Simpson, and the date was set for June 6, but I made arrangements with Jack to stay overnight in on of the two splendid (and beautifully adapted) luxury caravansthat are located close to the air traffic control tower at Old Sarum airfield. I can actually manage short distances using elbow crutches, but for those who use a chair, there are ramps right up to the door, adaptation have been tastefully carried out to make sure everything is accessible, including wheel in shower, and although I can't guarantee it is always the case, there was a cold can of lager in the fridge, that was really appreciated after my near 300 mile journey from my home in Lancashire (thanks Jack).

I spent a very pleasant afternoon the day before my flight with Jack, being introduced to all the staff at Old Sarum. Raymond Proost, and Mike Duff, who was to be my instructor, gave me a tour of the hangar, and showed me the aircraft I was to fly in the next day. I have to say, it was love at first sight. The C.F.M shadow is a beautiful aircraft, and has been fully adapted with hand controls, and in the case of one which I was to fly the next day, has been fitted with a brake that is activated by moving the head backwards, and of course, both have dual controls, so that in the event of an emergency, the instructor can quickly take over.

After a very comfortable night, the hour arrived, and I presented myself to the A.P.T. office at Hangar 3. Mike and Jack involved me in assembling the aircraft, (the wings detach in order to make transportation of the plane easier) and then carried out the pre-flight checks. By this time, I had very large butterfly's doing loops in my stomach, but not due to fright or apprehension&& was pure excitement!

For the less agile amongst us, there is a hoist can be used to get the disabled pilot in and out of the aircraft, and then, once Mike had had a quick conversation via the radio with the control tower, we taxied to the end of the runway, and in what seemed like seconds, we were taking off. The Shadow has a remarkable climb rate, and in minutes, we were at 1800ft. Mike and I were able to communicate via an intercom, because, as opposed to a light aircraft, where the pilot and passenger sit side by side, in the Shadow, you sit in tandem, so Mike was sat behind me. Once we had levelled out, and he was happy that I was okay, Mike told me to prepare to take over the controls, and, at last, after ten years of terra ferma, I was once again in control of an aircraft. It was for me, a very moving experience, which was over far too soon. We landed after the 30 minutes was up, to find Jack waiting at the side of the landing strip, and he says my face was beaming.

I will never be able to thank the A.P.T enough for giving me the opportunity to fly again, and for giving me back some of the self-confidence that I lost in 1991. I will be going back to train for my private pilots licence, and hopefully get my name on the shield on the wall of Jacks office, which has the names of all the successful students who have gained their flying licence since the A.P.T. started.

See you soon, and thanks again

Brian Thwaites