Disability takes to the global stage in August when London hosts the 2012 Paralympic Games, and for one charitable flying organisation this can only be a good thing.

UK disabled flying association Aerobility, the charity which enables disabled people to learn to fly, is looking forward to spreading the word about disabled flying, starting with its participation in the Paralympic opening ceremony on 29 August.

"We're really excited to have not just disability on a global stage but also aviation as well," says Mike Miller-Smith, Aerobility chief executive. "Disabled people can work, they can do amazing things, and that's the message we can spread throughout the community, throughout corporate, throughout the UK, and further afield."

It will be a momentous occasion for the charity, which began in 1993 as a small representative body for disabled aviators. Since then, Aerobility has grown to own four aircraft and lease a further two, enabling disabled people to fly 365 days a year.

"Three of our aircraft are specially adapted with disabled controls," explains Miller-Smith. "The other aircraft are of a certain type of design, which allows us to easily load disabled people. We've developed equipment such as our robo-hoist, which actually picks people up out of the wheelchair and puts them into the aircraft." Aerobility is demonstrating exactly how this hoist works at the show.

aerobility hoist 

The robo-hoist helps disabled people in to aircraft

Aerobility's specially adapted aircraft fly from various airfields in the UK and during 2011 supported almost 400 physically disabled, learning-disabled, wounded soldiers and sensory impaired people.

"The idea is to provide opportunities every day for a disabled person and, wherever they are in the country, we'll try and find them. It's about putting smiles on faces, using flight. That's the bottom line."

This is the message Aerobility hopes to spread, having returned to the Farnborough International Airshow this year, where it is displaying one of its aircraft and hosting a mini-chalet. "We've always had a small stand in one of the main halls at Farnborough, but we've never had manned aircraft with a chalet," says Miller-Smith.

"On every day of the show this year we are trying to do something that is of value to us, of value to potential sponsors, and of value to the wider Farnborough community, as in people visiting the show," he adds.

The charity is also using the show to officially launch its global flight sim challenge, which will take place at Aerobility's base at Blackbushe airport, Camberley, in October. The aim of the challenge is to raise vital funds to pay for a fully working flight simulator, which Aerobility has purchased from Flightdeck Technology. Aerobility must raise and pay its full cost - £50,000 ($77,500) - in the next 12 months.

For disabled people, the benefits of flight simulation are even greater than usual as individuals can spend as much time as it takes to learn to use the special controls with disabled limbs or prosthetics. The simulator, fitted with special adaptations, is also used when individuals are too ill to fly in a real aircraft, and so an equivalent life-changing experience can be provided via the simulator.

To raise £100,000 to operate and run the simulator for the next five years, Aerobility is challenging more than 100 pilots to help it enter the record books by virtually flying a simulator around the world. This will involve virtually flying 22,000nm (40,700km) in 10 days with 200h of flying. While a number of pilots have been confirmed so far, including UK MP James Arbuthnot; record-breaking Breitling Orbiter round-the-world pilot Brian Jones; scientist and adventurer Bertrand Piccard; and NATS chief executive Richard Deakin, Aerobility is seeking more participants or leg sponsors (minimum £500) during Farnborough week.

Gerald Howarth, MP for Aldershot and minister for international security strategy, is a patron of Aerobility and has already signed up for one of the 100 legs.

He says: "Aerobility is a remarkable organisation, creating wonderful opportunities for people with a wide range of disabilities to share that extraordinary sense of achievement in mastering the art of flight.

"With hundreds of disabled people participating every year, 40 having secured solo flight in the past five years, from those with cerebral palsy to limbless servicemen wounded on operations in Afghanistan, Aerobility is making a real difference to so many lives.

"Ultimately, it boils down to freedom," Miller-Smith adds. "Disabled people often don't get the chance to do things like fly an aeroplane, to push the boundaries, to experience risk, to increase the heart rate, to get the adrenaline pumping. I think to give that opportunity is extremely valued across all disabilities."

Source: Flight Daily News