If you were to tell me a year ago that I'd be penning a letter about my adventure with the FSDP, I might have chuckled in disbelief. But here we are. In every life, some decisions and events serve as pivot points, redirecting the trajectory in unexpected ways. My association with the FSDP is such a pivot point. This scholarship was not merely an opportunity to learn how to fly but a transformational voyage of self-discovery, courage, and unwavering faith against the backdrop of societal judgment and personal apprehension.
The Impetus: Every journey starts with a single step. In my case, that step was massive. Applying for the FSDP scholarship was like standing at the edge of a cliff. My past was filled with the shadows of discrimination, magnified by the whispers of a community that called my family "cursed." These weren't just shadows; they were shackles, holding me back, making even the mere thought of applying a daunting task. But the prospect of flying, of breaking free, and of possibly altering the narrative for my children propelled me forward.
The Mentor's Guidance: As I teetered on the edge, contemplating this flight of faith, a mentor emerged as my guiding light. His wisdom was evident, but it was his compassion and accessibility that stood out. No matter when, he was there, ready to dispel my doubts, ready to lend a listening ear. He prepared me for what was to come, ensuring I wasn't walking into RAF Cranwell completely blind.
First Stop: RAF Cranwell: RAF Cranwell is not just an assessment center; it's where aspirants metamorphose. Entering Cranwell was an overwhelming experience. Being in the midst of other applicants, each with unique stories and challenges was inspiring and intimidating. Witnessing individuals with profound challenges but full of determination, courage, or dreams was a stark reminder of the human spirit's resilience. At times, it made me second-guess my place amidst such strength. The thought of vacating my spot for someone else loomed large, yet something unexplainable propelled me forward. The atmosphere could have been somber in a place where every applicant has faced battles. Instead, it was electrifying. The trustees' unwavering commitment, the young chairman's infectious energy, and the embracing warmth of all involved transformed my perception. The sheer acceptance, the equality with which I was treated, was an alien yet longed-for experience. Conversations with many applicants rekindled strength and emphasized the collective power of unity in diversity. The General Manager of FSDP, was very kind and radiated compassion and support, further validating my decision to continue this journey. Finding Wings:
Beyond the emotional roller-coaster, Cranwell was also my first encounter with the world of aviation. Every interaction and every session made me more cognizant of the enormity of the path I'd chosen. The palpable excitement when I was in a plane or being introduced to the intricacies of flight in a simulator were moments of pure excitement. The genuine interest officers (while on the tour) showed in ensuring my comfort and understanding added to the allure of the skies. It was at Cranwell that I discovered that flying wasn't just a dream; it was a need.
Post-Cranwell Reflection: The culmination of my time at Cranwell was not the end but a hopeful beginning. Departing, I felt rejuvenated, inspired, and fortified. The once-entrenched self-doubt was replaced with a burgeoning self-belief fuelled by my experiences and interactions.
Post Cranwell, life resumed its usual pace but with an undercurrent of anticipation. And then, it came - the call. It wasn't just a call; it was validation. As I parked my car, tears blurred my vision. Against the backdrop of societal scorn, this was a win not just for me but for every person who'd ever been underestimated. My children's elation was the cherry on top. Their pride in their father, their beacon of hope, was palpable.
The initial leg of my FSDP experience wasn't just about the thrill of flying or the anticipation of a scholarship. It was a mirror reflecting back a man who had grown, dared to dream, and was ready to soar, literally and metaphorically. As I set out for the next training phase, I carried with me hope and a treasure trove of memories and lessons.
Arriving at a Dream Destination: Bristol Aero Club was more than just a location on a map; it was a sanctuary for dreams. From the moment I stepped onto the tarmac, the scent of fuel, the hum of engines, and the distant silhouettes of planes against the backdrop of an expansive sky filled me with a mix of elation and anticipation.
John and Deborah: More than Instructors: John and Debs weren't just instructors; they were the embodiment of patience, understanding, and genuine compassion. Their unique approach to teaching was rooted in a deep-seated belief in every scholar's potential. They never exhibited even a hint of annoyance, even when faced with last-minute changes or mistakes made by us scholars. Their calm and composed demeanour, especially in light of my self-confessed "horrible learning skills," spoke volumes of their commitment to inclusivity. Their patience was something I continuously marvelled at, making me wonder how anyone could maintain such serenity. Beyond their technical skills, their approach to treating every scholar as special and unique truly set them apart. Their ability to make me and others feel valued and respected was unparalleled. In the world of flying, where precision and discipline are paramount, John and Debs provided a nurturing environment, making the process of learning feel less daunting and more empowering.
Building Bonds Beyond Flying: Yet, Bristol wasn’t just about the flights and the lessons. It was the ground where new friendships took root and flourished. My fellow scholars, each battling their own adversities, became an integral part of my journey. Steve, with his razor-sharp wit, and Antony, with his infectious enthusiasm, were not just co-trainees; they became my pillars of support. Our shared experiences, both in the sky and on the ground, forged a bond that was hard to describe. The evenings were especially memorable. Conversations over meals, exploring the local eateries, sharing stories of our day, and laughing over our little misadventures transformed these moments into cherished memories. One could never understate the significance of these shared moments. They weren’t just about relaxation or leisure; they were therapeutic, healing sessions where we celebrated our achievements and shared our apprehensions.
The Power of Collective Resilience: As days turned into weeks, it became evident that the Bristol Aero Club was more than a training ground. It was a melting pot of dreams, challenges, triumphs, and collective resilience. Each of us, from the trainers to the scholars, contributed to this incredible tapestry of experiences, making our time here truly unforgettable. My time at BAC was transformative in acquiring aviation skills and understanding the depth of the human spirit and the beauty of shared journeys.
Soaring Spirits & Grounded Realities: The end of my training at Bristol Aero Club did not signify the conclusion of a chapter but rather the commencement of a new one. With a heart brimming with memories and newfound confidence, I was ready to face the world. Yet, the contrast between my soaring spirit and the grounded realities I was set to return to create a whirlwind of emotions.
The Transition: From Cloud Nine to Terra Firma: My return to everyday life was accompanied by a sense of incompleteness, a stark contrast to the elation I felt at Bristol. The flights, the lessons, and the laughter had embedded in me a taste for freedom, a zest for life beyond the ordinary. But with this newfound passion also came a realization of constraints.
Transformative Changes in Personal Life: Despite these challenges, the changes in me post-training were undeniable. The world saw it, and most importantly, my family felt it. My children remarked on my newfound confidence. My wife, my pillar of strength, observed a newfound courage in me. Friends, some of whom I had not met in years, commented on the positive aura that now surrounded me. It was as if my experience at FSDP had given me wings to fly planes and tackle life's adversities.
The Ripple Effect: My journey did not only affect me; it created ripples that touched many around me. It was humbling to know that I had become a beacon of hope for my children, a living testament that challenges, no matter how insurmountable they seem, can be overcome. I wanted them to learn that life’s battles are not won by surrendering to circumstances but by defying them, by carving out a path where none seems to exist.
Navigating Work Challenges: Around this transformative period, I faced uncertainties at my job. There was reorganization happening, and I risk losing my job. But something had changed. The old me might have been consumed by worries, overthinking every outcome. The new me, shaped and inspired by my time at Bristol, approached this challenge head-on. The essence of flying, about navigating through turbulence with calm and poise, became a philosophy I applied in my life. I was determined not to be grounded by adversities.
Continuing the Legacy of Hope: The desire to give back, to be a beacon for others, became a driving force. I wanted to share my story, not for the glory, but to inspire, to tell others that they too could overcome and deserve to dream and chase those dreams. The FSDP journey was much more than just acquiring the skills to fly; it was a transformative expedition that reshaped my outlook toward life. With each flight, I conquered the skies and the deep-seated fears and insecurities that had held me back for so long. Facing the myriad challenges during the training made me realize my inner strength and resilience. Beyond the technical expertise, the experience instilled in me a newfound confidence and courage. My family noticed this transformation, with my children seeing a more self-assured father and my wife observing a bolder version of me. Friends, whom I hadn’t connected with in years, remarked upon the positive change in my demeanor. This experience wasn’t just about flying; it was about rising above adversities in the air and on the ground. The empowerment I felt was tangible, and it prepared me to face life's turbulences with renewed vigour and optimism. The FSDP didn't just teach me to fly planes; it taught me to soar in life.
Final words: In retrospection, the FSDP experience was not just about learning to fly. It was about breaking the chains of societal judgment, about finding a community that believed in me, and most importantly, about discovering my own potential. The Flying Scholarship for Disabled People didn't just give me wings; it breathed life into my dreams. It illuminated the path ahead, promising adventures and challenges in equal measure. It reaffirmed my belief in the human spirit's resilience and the magic that unfolds when like-minded individuals come together.
A heartfelt thank you to the FSDP team. Your efforts have transformed lives, mine included. I have met extraordinary individuals through you and forged bonds that transcend time. Most importantly, you have instilled in me a belief – that irrespective of challenges, the sky is not the limit but just the beginning. I am eternally grateful to everyone who played a part in this transformative journey. You have not just taught me to fly but have also shown me the boundless expanse of the human heart and spirit. Here's to more flights, more adventures, and more dreams realized.
Thank you, FSDP. You have truly made a difference.
The initial application process was easy to follow and allowed plenty of time to submit interest. Surprisingly simple if a candidate applied with time to spare.
Once invited to Cranwell, the build up of email correspondence stepped up a tad but was easy to deal with.
The accommodation was outstanding even though the heating hellish. A great improvement since 2017, well done! The military were polite (to the point of casual) and this created a comfortable, non-threatening environment. I should imagine that this could be of benefit for certain verteran applicants and others. Thank you Dædalus.
My own Mentor was outstanding. Enthusiastic, empathetic and supportive throughout, Matthew was thoroughly brilliant.
The seminar itself was educational and informative. It was great to finally meet my co-scholars and instructors and I certainly gained a great deal from the day. The trustees and other FSDP family were fabulous and one could not help but feel deeply welcome.
The presentation at RIAT was a little intimidating but as all scholars felt the same way, we were supportive of each other. I felt very proud as it has been many years since I had held a certificate in my hands and the promise of fulfilling a dream. Everyone was very friendly and welcoming and it really did begin to feel a family event.
Flying scholarship at BAC was exceptional! Both John and Debra were always at hand and our days were enjoyable. Lessons were kept to the 'need to know' basics and the teaching was good. Both repeating statements if we didn't initially understand. I could not have wished for a finer pair of instructors, thank you both!
Then there was the actual flying. I can only tell you that it has been one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had the pleasure of pursuing! I will go into greater detail but wish to keep this report as factual as possible.
Visits from several trustees were welcome and pleasant. It felt good to talk flying with other flyers; it often felt that they were as excited as us scholars.
I can honestly say that the whole experience has given me a new lease of life. Before my scholarship award, I had very little hope, happiness or joy but from the moment I received my positive phone call from Lou, life simply changed. I became more positive and finally felt that I had something to live for. Life was still incredibly difficult; a recuperating foot and house move at the same time were daunting prospects but, the award turned my mood of wanting to escape, into a mood of defiance and determination to get life by the scruff of the neck and conquer it.
The fact that I can now fly brings a smile to my face and an excitement to my life knowing that I will continue to fly. I look forward to participating in further FSDP events and gatherings and wish to visit as many flying schools as possible in the hope that they would become supporters of the charity and welcome disabled flyers into their fold too.
Both John and Debs were excellent instructors; both very patient and clear in instruction. It is hard to believe that people like John and Debs want to give so much of their own time freely to help others. I hope I can somehow fly again with them by my side in the future as I'm missing them both already.
Daily Briefings were really good for helping understand the principles of the day's training. 16 hours flying time was gone in what seemed a flash. In hindsight I would have just spent more time in cockpit on the ground, familiarising myself with instruments etc.
I do believe that the 3 of us ‘buddies’ bonded together well especially in the last week. I sincerely believe the 3 of us will stay in contact, already plans afoot to meet up to possibly fly to Kemble together in Sierra Juliet.
Summary I am not sure where I go from here, I now have a burning desire to continue flying with at least the aim of flying solo. However I need to gain my medical certificate and for that to happen I need to change my neurological pain relief meds. I have spoken with both Gus Hickish and my GP about options. My GP is looking into it at the moment. If no meds are available then my other option is to fly solo in C42 microlight. I am already planning my first flight with Shadow Aviation.
I have also contacted Aerobility to arrange a trial flight at Blackbush. I hope that, as their hourly rate is subsidised, I might be able to continue flying my beloved PA28, even if I feel like I'm cheating on G-BBXW!
From a personal point of view I feel that the FSDP scholarship has elevated me higher so I can see further into the future, with my life being more useful/valuable for longer, it has also changed the way I perceive others see me, especially my family and friends.
As a final note, I would strongly recommend any disabled person to apply for an FSDP scholarship, as it might just change your life. Thank you to everyone involved in the FSDP: Trustees, mentors, instructors, previous scholars and this year's candidates.
To say I was looking forward to learning to fly would be an incredible understatement. The scholarship given to me by Fly Scholarships for Disabled People was part of, what has been so far, a life defining year for me. Most of you know of me, an unlucky few know me personally but all of you know how badly I took my injury and receded into solitary recrimination with a good dose of chronic pain to boot. I didn’t cope as well as many of my fellow students or candidates did with their disabilities.
Fourteen or so years later, I turn up at Cranwell and meet a bunch of impressive people with disabilities as severe as mine (or worse) and those without, all of whom impressed the hell out of me. I was, to all intents and purpose, a pathetic shadow of my former self. Either consciously or not, I changed after Cranwell and the scholarship was the icing on top that has propelled me to new goals. The fact I even have goals is testament to how things have changed.
Having Caroline as a partner was a smart move. I’m not sure that the trustees could have anticipated how good it was for me (and hopefully, Caroline) to have someone who was so like me yet so different. We understood each other, we helped each other and bounced off each other when things weren’t going so well. It was a symbiosis that increased positivity rather than dwelling on the difficult. To top it all, we both had John Marriott.
Those of you that know John could (or do) think of him as a joker, a prankster and the perpetrator of the worst ‘dad’ jokes you’ll ever hear. His ‘magic’ isn’t half bad (that’s why he’s only a member of the Magic Semi-Circle) and it’ll either fascinate you or make you try and figure out how (I was formerly the former and latterly the latter) but it does distract you and that, I think, was the point. He is, after all that, an excellent pilot and instructor with more flying hours than I’ve had hot dinners.
The three weeks at Turweston were amazing, memorable and, more importantly, therapeutic. Those weeks taught both Caroline and myself that we could cope alone (kind of), we could accomplish things that I thought were the remit of the fit and able bodied and that we are only restricted by what we perceive to be restrictions or how we restrict ourselves to believe. I believed I was broken and useless. No longer. I have begun to learn how to fly, I’ve passed one of my nine flying exams, I’ve started a diploma in editing and proofreading in order to get a job and I’m starting a new degree next year. Not only that, I’ve dropped my reliance upon medication for the pain, something I’ve wanted to do for years but thought impossible.
This year has seen my life change so drastically that I would not have believed it possible if you’d have mentioned it at the start of 2023. I would have laughed in your face, not that I laughed much but for such a claim, I would have made the effort. It would be easy for me to state that FSDP were responsible for the change but it was mostly the people I’ve met because of the FSDP and not all of them disabled. Yes, there were a few amazing people who overcame their disabilities with resilience and determination that I found lacking in myself, but there were the others that exude confidence and capability that is infectious.
This scholarship has been life defining and something I’ll never forget. I hope, in some way, I’ll be able to give back some of what I have taken.
I arrived at the hotel and met John & Jim in the bar and it was nice to catch up with them both again. Then it was back to my room to settle in. I didn’t get much sleep that night partly due to anxiety about what was to come, whether I would be up to it and there was also a little bit of excitement! I reflected on how lucky I was to have been offered this experience by FSDP and was determined to succeed.
The first week started with a briefing and then up in the air for the first lesson. Jim and I soon came to an understanding that I would fly in the mornings and him in the afternoon as this arrangement suited us both. The first flight went by very quickly as there is so much to take in and before I knew it we were back on the ground for a debrief. The first week we had two rainy days when we couldn’t fly and on the others we proceeded to go through the lessons.
The facilities at Turweston were really good with a café overlooking the airfield where I sometimes had lunch or a cup of tea. We also went to a very nice local farm shop café with John for lunch on some days. Jim and I met up in the bar to eat some evenings and others we were too tired and resorted to picking up food from the supermarket next door.
The first week was very hard for me as I was missing my partner and I had to dig deep to keep up with the reading and taking in all of the information. John and Jim were very supportive and encouraging. By the end of the weekend I was ready for the week ahead and feeling more relaxed about it.
Week two went by quickly and I felt that my flying ability was progressing albeit slowly! The second weekend Turweston Flying Club arranged a BBQ and my partner was invited to it. It was lovely to see him and also to catch up with Anthony who had just finished his scholarship as well and Lou and some of the FSDP Trustees. Week three started and I was feeling much more relaxed and looking forward to flying with excitement. By the last day I flew circuits which was amazing and even took off and landed with some help from John! I came away from the experience wanting more and to work on my landing in particular.
I came away from the experience feeling much more like my old self prior to disability taking its hold and sapping my confidence. I feel very proud that I have learnt something new, have enjoyed being self-reliant and spending time with Jim and John and other people at the flying club.
I would like to thank everyone at FSDP for giving this once in a lifetime opportunity to learn how to fly. It was an amazing three weeks where I met great people and made long lasting friendships. The confidence that I have come out with after the three weeks I can't put Into words but I feel a Million dollars and no disability issue can get in my way 'I know how to fly now ':-)
Thanks to John & Deb and their patience with me during my scholarship you guys are amazing people can't thank you guys enough.
Since being back I have taken my children to school, I have been on many outings with them all thanks to FSDP and the power of confidence it has given me which I had lost for many years, so thank you guys and God bless. I just feel great again.
I just wish we could of gained an actual flying licence but I understand why that ain't possible. I also would like to thank BA Highflight for funding my scholarship and giving the ability to be more optimistic about my future, without BA Highflight funding none of this would have been possible so thank you again and keep up the good work it has really changed my life in a good way.
The application process was seamless, with the online forms not taking too long and the format being user friendly. The hardest part of this is the ‘Why would you like a scholarship’. Partly as it allows you to put pen to paper, confronting your daily challenges that until you stop and think about them, they seem very in In-consequential.
After submitting my application, I completely forgot about it. In February, an email came through inviting me to Cranwell. My emotions were all over the place.
Cranwell was a life changing experience for me. I went from an insecure, anxious girl to a confident young adult. One of the hardest parts for me was the staying away from home. I had never done this since becoming disabled. So, I was understandably very scared. However, after a rocky start with not even wanting to come in, I now love the experience of going away alone. I cannot tell you how grateful I am for this experience as it was a big turning point in my life. The whole process was flawless. From talking to the trustees to the aircraft assessment, it was so much fun but more importantly it was eye opening to what one can gain out of the scholarship and the opportunities that you can still have whilst disabled.
The seminar for me was a crucial part of the process, it was a turning point. If anything, it was when an idea became reality, when a dream became true, when an idealistic vision of having people around me who understood became something more than a vison in my head.
All I can say about RIAT was, Thank you. It was my first air show and more importantly will be the best air show I ever go to. I got to show my family the world of FSDP and the kind people they all are. The Sunday was a day I will never forget. Allowing you all to meet the people who mean so much to me and them meeting you. After, Cranwell all I went on about was how amazing the people were and how I never felt so accepted – but my family coming to RIAT was the first time they got to see it for real.
Finally, The scholarshipl. I cannot tell you how glad I was to get Bristol Aero Club for my flying course. From Day 1, we had fun. We laughed, shared stories, and learned in the best way possible – from John’s projector and his laser pointer (If you know you know). Before the scholarship I had five hours of flying lessons, and I cannot tell you how much I had learned. By the end of 17 hours total I was flying fully unaided. For me the hardest part of the scholarship was managing my Chronic Fatigue and energy levels, it was something that I knew would be difficult, but I learned so much about my body during the process. I had never pushed myself as much as I did over these three weeks and the combination of being busy every day to having to do everything for myself and living independently for the first time. It taught me a lot – ‘Speak Up’.
So, I guess all I have left to say is … Thank You. I want more days than I am likely to get but I have learned it is about the quality of those numbers of days. And that what you gave me a was a little infinity. A forever within a few days and that will last a lifetime. I am eternally grateful.
The journey is the reward they say and this is particularly true in relationship to my FSDP scholarship. I applied three times for a scholarship and was successful each year in different ways. First year I got selected but didn't do selection (Covid), second year I got selected and did selection viz Zoom and third year I got selected and did selection in person at Cranwell and was lucky enough to be offered a scholarship from the Worldwings Charitable Trust at Turweston in Northamptonshire.
The application form was in many ways the most difficult part in scholarship as it forces you to reflect on where you are now where you want to be. It makes you actively consider different options and identify limitations. In particular writing down and sharing it with people you don’t know is a real challenge.
I found the selection process really valuable. It made me consider not just my position but also that of my peers. I was lucky enough to have a great mentor and he will be a friend for life. The whole process was valuable as it made me consider things that I had previously not considered or had deliberately ignored.
Cranwell in and of itself was incredibly rewarding. Getting to meet a whole range of people with different disabilities and that being the unifying norm. In most social scenarios there are challenges - you are excluded by the very nature of being different. Cranwell was one of the few experiences I can recall where I didn’t consider myself to be disabled. In many ways it was a good precursor to the scholarship itself. It was great to meet the trustees and flying instructors first hand and get to know them as people.
I want to thank everybody that made it possible without forgetting anybody. The scholarship itself was an incredible and unique opportunity for me on a whole host of levels. Time for me to concentrate on rehabilitation and stabilisation of my condition. The opportunity to constantly break through barriers and self-limiting behaviours on a daily basis was and is empowering.
The aim of a scholarship is to both challenge and inspire; it did this fully. It also aims to build up confidence, self-esteem and future aspirations. I can say my confidence, which was lower than I’d realised, has been bolstered. Interestingly, self-esteem and future aspirations are linked. Prior to the scholarship my future aspirations and self-esteem were limited. After the scholarship they are both limitless. It is truly a life changing experience that Is wonderfully complex and simple at the same time. In short there are things you can learn about the world only from 4000ft above.
"When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward. For there you have been, and there you will always long to return" - Leonardo da Vinci.
The whole scholarship experience was like a mosaic, many different parts all coming together to create a life transforming experience. Ironically, flying is only a small part of the benefits - Strange I know, especially for a flying scholarship!
Cranwell is such a life changing experience in its own right. The chance to spend three days with other disabled people, talking, comparing stories and meeting other like minded and disabled people is such an valuable and rewarding experience. It really brings home to you that you're not the odd one out. There are others in the same boat (or should I say plane) as you!
The scholarship on top is nothing short of a turning point in your life. There are so many benefits and achievements throughout. I decided early on that if I could take off and land handling the controls myself then I could do anything. Taking off independently happened fairly early in the scholarship but landing seemed a little trickier.
I hadn't managed to land yet.
The being away from family and friends was daunting at first, but I soon found myself in fits of giggles with my flying buddy over the day's events. Our frequent trips to the nearby Big Tescos always ended in absolute hysterics - strange I know!
I still hadn't managed to land.
Groundschool was both fun and interesting. There's always something to learn. It's great to understand the theories and grasp the concepts of air law and meteorology and then to consolidate this by putting it all into practice.
I still hadn't managed to land.
The airfield was set in the most beautiful surroundings. The staff there are lovely, cheerful and the other members very kindly offered us a flight in a Stearman Bi-plane and another member showed us round his Thruster plane... even asking us to help him change his tyre. I don't know how to change a car tyre, but at least I can change a plane tyre!
I still hadn't managed to land.
My instructors were just all kinds of amazing. They were very clearly very passionate about the ethos of FSDP and aviation and were all too happy to share their experience, knowledge and guidance. They both were patient and incredibly helpful and both were great fun! I still miss them now! When the weather wasn't too friendly, or even when it was, there was always time for Cake O'Clock!
I still hadn't managed to land.
The benefits don't just stop at the flying. For four weeks, we mingled and chatted to the hotel staff, becoming part of the team, even assisting cleaning the cutlery! We felt part of their team and shared many good jokes and good times in between the evenings of gin and shenanigans! We spent the most part of our evenings laughing our heads off - the best part of it was, we were only drinking tea and coffee!
I still hadn't managed to land.
I can honestly say I've made valuable Friendships for life in other scholars, my flying buddy and mentors. We've all had a common experience but we've all seen our self imposed barriers be smashed down completely and realised our true unlimited potential. The lessons and things I've learnt about myself during this scholarship will remain with me for life.
I still hadn't managed to land.
As the Scholar’s Scholar, I owe this entire Scholarship to previous scholars who have fundraised and given to make this Scholarship possible. THANK YOU! I’d like also to thank FSDP for believing in me, my mentor for her guidance and the other mentors for their friendship. I'd like to thank Kathryn and Fiona who were both excellent in their instruction and dedication and finally... they say it's not what you do, but who you do it with. Never before has this been more true. My final thanks goes to my buddy Jane who made the whole experience simply, just wonderful.
Oh I nearly forgot, on my last flight, I managed to land!
Firstly I’d like to just say how fortunate I feel to have found the charity and to be granted the opportunity for the scholarship - what you do is truly amazing so thank you.
The scholarship itself, wow, I don’t know where to start - an absolutely unforgettable experience. The accommodation for me was brilliant, the space, the shower, the bathroom made my stay really comfortable. The hotel staff was really nice and helpful.
The location was perfect, 10 minutes from the airfield and 10 minutes from every restaurant we could think, close to a gym and a supermarket it was really easy to access anything.
The first day of the scholarship... when we went up in the plane, I come down really nervous - I honestly couldn’t believe I was going to fly the aircraft myself. I came down doubting myself. After a couple more days, I really got more and more confident. Deb and John where unbelievable to us the whole 3 weeks not just in a teaching way, but on a personal level too, two absolutely amazing people.
We did straight and level, turning, climbing and descending, stalling, and my confidence just grew more and more. as for the ground school side, I really enjoyed that to. Since school I was working in construction and haven’t done an exam since I was 16. For air-law I really studied at home and then when we were being taught it by Deb and John, I felt the hours in the books paying off. It was really satisfying for me to have the feeling that I studied for something and passed! It’s given me that drive to complete the rest of the exams, I doubted my knowledge but was actually surprised how much I learnt.
Back to the flying - middle of week 2, we were briefed on circuits. I was really nervous about how we’re going to put everything we’ve learn into quick continuous fluent decision making. At first it didn’t go well, but after a few times I got better and better, still loads to improve though. But to think, I sat in the plane Monday 5th September with not a clue what to do and by the end of week 3 I was taking off unassisted, semi assisting landing, doing airborne radio, passing exams... it’s just crazy how much we made progress.
Even the evenings, going out with Zak and Abi, I’ve never been out with disabled friends at home, it was just so new to me to all socialise together, and just be three disabled people out in public and having conversations we couldn’t have even with family members.
Thank you to BA for sponsoring me it was a truly incredible experience. Words can’t describe how much it’s had a positive impact on my life and encouraged me to continue flying, I am forever grateful for the opportunity.
I’ve spoken to a few people around FSDP and aviation and I feel able to reflect on what we achieved and whatever happens that experience will stay with me for a life time. Thank you so much, honestly, I’m so appreciative of the opportunity given to me.
My Flying Scholarship was terrific, I enjoyed every minute of the course. I loved Fiona and Kathryn, they made me feel at ease and taught me a lot, not just about flying, but about me and what it is possible to achieve.
The first time in the C42 I was flying, Kathryn took off and then said you have control, that was scary but I soon settled into it. The second lesson I must confess was not my favourite as I was thrown around the sky, this was to see what all the controls did on their own and why it is important to use them in the proper manner. Then it was assisted take offs and soon I was taking off unaided.
I enjoyed the ground school with Fiona, we covered navigation, air law, meteorology, human factors, as well as others. I did a navigation exercise where we planned the route and then flew to Portland Bill which was brilliant. We learned to do the triangle of velocity so we could calculate the wind speed and heading. We did more navigation exercises on to the Isle of White, Chesel Beach, Longleat and the Glastonbury Tor. I also practised forced landing in a field which was great fun. We did turns, wing stalls as well as getting out of a spin all of which was fun to learn especially with Kathryn in the plane in case things went wrong.
We had a flying lesson in the Stearman plane which was really exciting as I love the look of the plane, so when offered a flight I could not wait. Fiona helped to sort it out and up we went, I didn’t think I was going to fly the plane but did. I enjoyed the experience but had to admit that I preferred flying the C42.
The scholarship was an experience that I will always look back on with very fond memories. My scholarship would not have been as brilliant without my flying buddy Geoffrey, we laughed and laughed as well as studied hard. I have made a special friend that will last a lifetime.
Geoffrey made my scholarship fun from the moment we got there to the end and I miss the fun we had. Fiona and Kathryn helped me a lot throughout my scholarship and hopefully we will keep in touch. I will be going back to Compton Abbas at some point to see Fiona as I still miss being with her and Kathryn.
My scholarship has given me the confidence and the drive to start a university degree. The degree in in design and innovation so I can hopefully change the world and make it accessible to all. I would like to thank FSDP for my scholarship and for all of the support that I have been given on my journey and look forward to keeping in touch with everyone. I would, and have recommended that other disabled people apply to FSDP as the scholarship has help me in more ways than I can say.
I applied for a scholarship in 2019 for the 2020 scholarships. I actually believe that I wasn’t physically or emotionally ready for that year, and was relieved when the scholarships were cancelled due to Covid. Fortunately I had a year to get prepared for the next round.
Speaking to the instructors, meeting trustees, meeting candidates, meeting mentors, these were all incredible. But going for a helicopter ride for the first time since being airlifted from my accident was huge! I couldn’t contain my smile, thank goodness I still love helicopters! Hopefully I would also still love small planes! Although I did tell everyone who would listen that I did NOT want to fly a microlight!
But what a ‘surprise’ to find that I would be flying a microlight! Would it be too much like a glider? Fortunately by then I had met Fiona and Raymond (and Kathryn very briefly) and knew I was in good hands. I still had reservations, but my mentor Dawn had also done her scholarship with them and was able to give me a lot of confidence.
We had a 4 week scholarship. 2 weeks on, a 2 week break, then back for 2 weeks. We were also awarded 20 hours of flying.
The first day I managed to survive the 6am covid test and all of the transfers. We arrived at the airfield and Raymond had us up flying pretty quickly! He bought a chair with air suspension that we can transfer onto and raise up to transfer into the plane. This was huge for me as I’m not that confident on transfers. It obviously also helped to protect our shoulders and save energy for the fun stuff – flying! They recognised my nerves, so didn’t give me much time to think about it and sent me up first. I could not believe how comfortable I was with Raymond. It was obvious that he wasn’t going to miss anything and weren’t going to get into any unrecoverable situations. This was a huge relief. Despite knowing I was in good hands I still got overwhelmed with nerves. I would almost talk myself out of every flight, often feeling physically ill. This was all taken into consideration, with Raymond knowing when to distract me from the nerves. I was encouraged, but never forced.
On the days that we had bad weather we did ground school. We were given a very thorough walk through of how to check the plane over before flying it, we learnt heaps about meteorology, navigation, air law and human performance factors.
What a fantastic scholarship. I honestly can’t imagine any other experience that could have given me the confidence that I gained during a 4 week scholarship with FSDP. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity and hope that my experience can encourage others to apply. The challenge is both physical and mental and I would honestly never have believed that I would ever think it would be possible for me to fly solo – watch this space!
I was wary of applying again after the covid cancellation due to insecurities and nerves but glad I did!
The assessment days at Kemble were great. I was taken aback at how friendly and helpful everyone was. I was genuinely amazed that the trustees were approachable humans and I even remarked on my return home that my faith in humanity could well have been finally restored. Everything went up a few notches, seeing, touching and even flying in aircraft made everything finally seem that it was really going to happen. I was still very nervous and emotional around everyone. I think it was because I couldn’t believe these people were so kind they could award a scholarship to me.
I had met Phil briefly at Kemble so I was delighted to learn we would be buddies. The zoom seminars with John and Paul from Turweston further added to my confidence. (Even pilots with thousands of hours are still ‘real people’)
The scholarship itself was incredible. I arrived at the hotel in Brackley on Sunday afternoon. John Marriott texted to see if I had arrived and asked if I wanted to call over to Henton where he has his hangar. I was slightly nervous but agreed anyway. It couldn’t have been more relaxing, he introduced me to a few aviators of various types that were casually spending time together and I could not have felt more welcomed by everyone I met. Phil arrived later on and it all stood us in good stead to get going on the Monday morning.
From the outset our training was fairly full on. I didn’t appreciate that we would be ‘banging the circuit’ quite so much, I had envisaged some light lessons on the way to some different idyllic airfield each day. Saying that I wouldn’t have changed it at all. I think we both found it very intense and exhausting. I would fall asleep reading the briefing pages for the next day. John agreed that if I’d had another hour or 2, I could easily have flown the circuit solo.
John was amazing, as all the guys at Turweston were. Full of knowledge which he easily passed on, some great magic tricks, anecdotes from the old days and some terrible jokes. We would ask for recommendations for places to eat at night or to visit at weekends and he always had helpful suggestions.
I had been slightly nervous of the the visit by Boeing, however as the weeks went on I found I was a lot more confident with everything in general. I felt prepared to speak to them and even throw in a few aviation buzz words like it was all second nature.
With my log book at the ready I tried to convince Al to get an honest report on my progress from John. He assured me that even if I hadn't left the ground yet the grin stuck on my face had already convinced him that the scholarship was everything he had hoped for too.
It did not feel like a visit from Boeing, it felt like catching up with Al.
I was so relaxed and happy that someone was so genuinely interested in my life. I could have stayed for hours but as it was getting late we both had to get back to other things.
One thing that sticks in my mind is how similar FSDP and Boeing (or Al) are. The values, expectations and excitement for the scholarships are identical. To find two organisations that can restore my previously mentioned loss of faith in humanity really has brought a lot home and lifted me right up.
I could go on for hours about how great the scholarship was and in all honesty the only bad thing about it was that it had to come to and end at some point. I am slightly frustrated that I was just short of going solo but I cannot let that get in the way of an amazing experience.
I have been home for a few days now but the exhaustion is only now setting in so it’s a bit early to clearly say how much the scholarship has improved my life. I know the scholarship has served what it set out to do though. I have confidence to speak and even inform on a new subject. I have the knowledge passed on by John. I have the memories of the best 3 weeks of my life. I have made a great new friend in Phil. I have met numerous interesting people that I would never had the chance to normally. I have experienced dry sunny weather and worn shorts for the entire month of September. I have become part of the FSDP family. I have had someone comment on how much I smile now. I could go on and on.
And most of all- THANK YOU
I was apprehensive about filling out my application, am I eligible, do I deserve? I put it off for quite some time until I spoke to a few previous scholars. As they said, if you don’t apply….
Getting the call to say I had made it to Kemble was AMAZING; thanks Lou! Kemble was a really good couple of days, it felt relaxed. It was good to meet the instructors, trustees and everyone else who make FSDP work. I enjoyed getting to try the different aircraft so I now know that I will not fit in a microlight!
John & Debs were amazing; I really appreciate them giving their time. They worked around the three of us and our different requirements. They were keen to ensure we all completed our scholarships to the best of our ability. I feel being based out of Gloucester has given me a significant skill set in terms of flying and using the radio. The club members were friendly and welcoming.
Both john and Debs are still helping me to find a school near to home so that I can continue with my PPL. And that is my aspiration, to get my PPL and continue flying.
The scholarship helped me find a bit of confidence that I had been missing, it really did challenge me and put me in uncomfortable situations but that has helped me. I now have a bit of a spark again in continuing something (other than work). Moving forwards I have enjoyed the opportunity to complete my scholarship and hope to remain friends with everyone in the FSDP family. I look forward to meeting everyone again to see how they have got on.
As a side note, my wife Kerry has said she has not seen me as focussed in myself for a long time. I am talking, researching and planning how to continue with what FSDP has given me. I think she’ll change her mind soon as I can’t stop banging on about flying…. Did I tell you I flew solo……….
I heard about FSDP (Flying Scholarships for Disabled People) by word of mouth. I’d always had a secret desire to learn to fly, so after giving it a great deal of thought, I completed the online application form. We were still in the middle of lockdown(s) courtesy of COVID-19, so wasn’t sure if this was going to happen at all.
Fast forward to Sunday 22nd August, I arrived at my hotel in Gloucestershire early evening to settle in and get my bearings. Did a RECCE to ensure I knew how to get to the airport the next morning, picked up some dinner on the way back to the hotel and then settled down for the evening. Another restless night! I wouldn’t admit to being excited, but I was definitely looking forward to getting in the cockpit.
Day 2 - Weather was fantastic, cloud base 3000 ft. Today John lost even more marbles and allowed me to taxi from the hangar to the runway but suddenly he regained sense. We paused, ran through a few more pre-take off checks before he took control and took us up into the air, where we ran through various procedures which included ‘Trimming’. This allows you to let go of the hand controls and the plane remains in a straight direction (probably like auto pilot). Practiced this 5 or 6 times, different angles, different descents then came back down to Gloucester airport for a break and swap over with other team members
Day 3 - Bah Humbug! Weather not looking too clever today, overcast and low cloud base. Arrive at the airport, looks like there’s not much going on here. Feeling slightly disappointed, but that didn’t last long, we were soon able to start taking off again. Today, I was given control and took the plane up myself! Today we practiced keeping the flight straight and level, using speed (fast and slow) to maintain a level and straight course. What an awesome feeling! Been sending pics back home. Apparently, I haven’t smiled this much in soooo long!
What did I like? Everything. The challenges, the new information, learning new experiences and techniques and achieving something I didn’t think possible after being injured. only one day bad weather out of 3 weeks. What next for me? This scholarship has given me more than I could imagine, the cheesy smile for a start – everyone thought it had been lost forever, they don’t call me Grumpy for nothing! I want to take this further, all the way, no holds barred! Since leaving Gloucester on Friday 10th September (and before that!) I had been in talks with various flying schools. Debbie and John, our instructors have been Awesome, helpful and encouraging, sharing their flying knowledge and experience in helping me to progress my flying.
I cannot thank everyone at FSDP enough for their support and this opportunity to learn to fly and making it one of the most memorable experiences I have ever had. Pairing me up with Simon and Matt – that was an experience in itself – for them anyway!
Firstly I would like to say thank you to FSDP once again for a once in a lifetime experience. It was exhilarating, confidence boosting, thrilling but also surprisingly tiring. The two weeks flew by and although I missed out on the first part of my course because of covid, I still managed to do so much in those two weeks. I must say my instructors were marvellous, very easy going and welcoming.
I couldn’t believe how much it took out of me, mostly mentally learning so many new skills but also all the ground school. On lots of the days I was able to do two flights which I loved and I gained more confidence with every flight (not to say I wasn’t very scared on probably my first three flights) but I was pushed into coming out my comfort zone and how quickly I could learn, adapt and do. My instructors were very good at reading me and working out how I learnt best and when I was tired or when I could be pushed more.
,br> I learnt something new everyday and as well as the actual flying time, I enjoyed the ground school. How to read charts and plan a navigated flight. All about meteorology and flight, and the human affects on flying. I found this all very interesting and obviously important. If I was tired I was able to leave early or if I wanted to stay and do some more I was able to. It was all tailored to my capability and how I felt on the day. From the course I feel I have more confidence to learn a new skill, I surprised myself with how much I can look after myself when I need to and it showed me once again that things are possible to achieve for someone with a spinal cord injury.
A massive thank you to my sponsor “British Airways” for this amazing experience and honour and to FSDP the trustees and my flying instructors. Such an amazing time, better than I had anticipated!!
I have to start with my over-flowing feelings towards the team at Shadow Aviation – they are so very kind and accommodating. I felt as though both Fiona and Raymond had accepted me into their families. I don’t think I needed to ask for help once as so many elements of the course I thought I would struggle with had already been catered for or resolved. I do realise they have been conducting training for disabled people for many years, they still have so much compassion in the way they operate.
When I got up into the air the first time, wow, what a feeling of release and exhilaration. I have obviously flown many times in airliners, so flying wasn’t a new experience. However, to be in a small aircraft, in which you could feel every little change in the air conditions, it was just incredible.
To then take the controls, there is a feeling of trust, a bond that must be formed between an instructor and student – I was supremely lucky that I felt his almost immediately with Raymond. Although he initially seemed an unorthodox character to me, I could tell that he was working me out, understanding immediately the best way to teach me. On top of this, Raymond and Kathryn managed to teach me in a way that I was constantly pushing further and further with my training.
Finally, Raymond saw confidence in me to make a solo flight…although…due to medical restrictions this was actually a ‘Ghosted’ solo flight, for me it was an incredible achievement.
The most fundamental impact of the scholarship has been to remind me that I am still capable of taking on a complex subject and learn about it, being tested in it and passing. It also showed to me that I do not need to depend on others, namely my wife, to exist on a daily basis. I managed to pack my ‘life’ up for a period of time, and most importantly, self-manage away from the ease and restriction-less home setting. This no mean feat when needing to transport the necessary equipment for the ongoing daily treatment of my body. I also managed to fill my car with fuel for the first time in years! About six times!!! You forget that even a menial task just as filling the car with fuel becomes a hugely daunting and tiring activity when needing to constantly transfer a heavy wheelchair into and out of a car.
It also showed to me the value of friendship – I consider Fiona and Raymond to be friends, not just my instructors…whether they feel the same is a different matter!!
The final impacts the experience have achieved are to; remind me the feeling of absolute exhilaration that can be had by being 4,500 feet above ground level, above the clouds and discovering how beautiful everything still is, disability or injury regardless. When in an aircraft, you are essentially equal to others - a pilot is A PILOT!!! I have also regained some of the confidence that I had lost due to the injury and devastating change to my life.
My scholarship started when I was selected for interview back in March. Having successfully made it through the interview stage, it was off to Kemble for a couple of days to have my medical and aircraft assessments. Meeting most of the flying instructors and being able to talk to them and ask questions was excellent. The volunteers and the plane assessors were brilliant and could not have been more patient or helpful and it was great to meet so many trustees.
Before I knew it, I was back at Kemble starting my flying training! Well, what can I say: the 3 weeks at Gryphon Aero Club based on the old RAF Kemble Airfield with John Griffin, Pete Shawe, Paul Finch, Jan Wojciechowski and Brod Pincott were utterly amazing and some of the best I’ve ever experienced. My confidence has soared, literally, and the belief in myself and my abilities has reached an all-time high: well, if I can fly, I can do anything!
The guys at the club believed in me and the experience has been empowering and I believe it will change my life forever. I got so much fun and enjoyment from flying with everyone (and Charlie the Cockapoo) whether I was flying the plane or simply a passenger. The scholarship has opened many new friendships for me, and I’ve met so many amazing people along the way. Everyone at the club treated me with dignity, patience and understanding, offering help where/if needed. Nothing was ever too much trouble. Thanks to Paul for his kind words and unknowingly ‘talking’ me out of going home on the first Thursday: I could have quite easily packed my bags and gone home that day, but I am so, so glad I didn’t!
Towards the end of the last week the Club’s PA28 Cherokee needed to go to the engineer so we both flew Pete & Jan’s PA28 Arrow instead. This is a much faster aircraft and slightly bigger with retractable landing gear. I am so grateful to Pete and Jan for allowing me to fly the Arrow. It was brilliant being able to experience flying a different aircraft instead of losing some of my flying hours.
I am fully aware that this year was vastly different to previous ones, and I thank everyone involved in actually awarding scholarships this year during extremely challenging times. I am delighted to be awarded my scholarship in the name of 2496 Cumbernauld Squadron – Air Training Corps.
I am more assertive and confident, and I am looking into doing other activities as things slowly open up. I’m sure that my flying buddy Lotty and I will remain in contact and build on our friendship, it was a strange experience at times but on lots of occasions we found that we were actually thinking the same thing at the same time, or if we were looking for a restaurant or café, we would normally find the same one.
Grateful thanks to Dawn my mentor who has supported me for the last 2 years and given me very useful information about the whole process, guidance and friendship. Also many thanks to fellow mentors Amanda, Claire, Kerry and Matthew who have supported me this year via zoom meetings and in person too.
My sincere and grateful thanks for awarding me a scholarship and changing my life for the better.
I went to RIAT in July 2019. I was on a mobility scooter and FSDP people targeted me with leaflets and stickers, saying ‘YOU CAN LEARN HOW TO FLY’. I spoke with my husband and friends throughout the amazing air show. They were all encouraging me to apply. So, I thought about it. I loved going up in a small aircraft when I was a 13, with my friend’s dad. I wasn’t scared, I loved it. I did a sky dive in 2010 to raise money for the MS Trust. Loved it!! So, I thought, yes, I’m going to apply.
I got through to the interview, which went well, they all made me feel very comfortable. I’m glad it was split over two days and that we were notified on the Monday. I was convinced I hadn’t got a scholarship, but I was extremely pleased that I was wrong.
The 2 assessment days in Kemble, went well, and it was so nice to finally meet everyone in person. Listen to people’s stories, meet the Trustees, Mentors and of course the other scholars that I had seen on screen via Zoom. Then I got the call. Oh my!
So now, let me tell you about the amazing guys, John, Pete, Paul and Jan. They are fantastic, made us feel very welcome and they were very accommodating regarding our fatigue levels. And great flying instructors too. The third week was so hot, we were up early eating breakfast at 6.30am, to get up in the sky as early as possible. The guys were very accommodating with regards to this also. I was able to fly over my in-laws village Marshfield, also over Frome where other family live. Also, Beautiful Bath and Bristol. One of our final trips was to Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire in Wales. It was stunning!!
I had a visit from Tim Prince during my scholarship, who is my sponsor. It was lovely of Tim to put his name to my scholarship. Thank you, Tim.
The Scholarship was the best experience of my life. I’ve met lots of amazing people and now I can fly!! I will certainly remain good friends with my flying buddy Yvonne. I’m so glad that we were paired together. Well done FSDP.
I now know exactly what you mean when you say FSDP Family.
I’m certainly more confident since doing the Scholarship. I won’t shy away from journeys and getting my scooter out of the car. I also hope to go gliding and go up in a friend’s aerobatics aircraft. I hate rollacoasters, but I thoroughly enjoyed doing some crazy moves during the scholarship. I’m not scared!!!
THANK YOU FSDP
I have put you forward for Qualcomm’s Corporate Giving in 2022
I am a 2014 scholar. I have ME/CFS and hypermobility syndrome. When I was a child I wanted to be a pilot so when I was told by the careers officer that there are no women pilots and I’d never get a job as one anyway, I went to art school, but at the back of my mind I always knew I was going to learn to fly one day. I had a successful career in print journalism as an art director for national magazines and newspapers and whist at work I sustained life changing injuries, starting with RSI. In 2005 I was told I also had ME/CFS. My body collapsed and I spent the next decade having many operations and being predominantly housebound and bedbound. This was also very tough on my children, who were seven and nine at the time. I felt like I’d lost pretty much everything. Thankfully I saw an interview on TV with an FSDP scholar and it re-ignited that deep seated desire to learn to fly. The scholarship had become my lifeline.
I found the interview process at RAF Cranwell a bit daunting initially, but for the first time in a long while I started to feel relaxed amongst a group of people where I wasn’t being judged as to how ill I am, which can happen a lot to someone with invisible disabilities. I met so many lovely people, and I was able to start taking down the defensive brick wall I’d put up around myself.
On my scholarship I had an incredible time with the flying instructors Fiona and Ray, plus all the other wonderful people at Shadow Aviation at Old Sarum Aerodrome in Salisbury. Through the medium of flying I felt as if I was on a new path to rebuilding myself. I was finding new ways of coping, pacing and learning. Brain fog is a huge problem, as well as fatigue and pain, and I wasn’t sure how I would manage, but with the help from Fiona and the gang we found a way, and it didn’t matter if I took longer than other people or wasn’t able to fly as much during the day. There were so many incredible moments, and one of my highlights was flying over Stonehenge. Flying to the Isle of Wight was pretty spectacular too.
I did manage to get very close to getting my PPL(m), but annoyingly had a huge relapse and am still waiting to start up flying again. It’s the carrot on the stick, for when I’m ready. Something to still look forward to.
I am so grateful for FSDP as it gave me my life back and I have managed to achieve a great many things that mean a lot to me since my scholarship. I really enjoyed being a mentor for prospective candidates, and was privileged to give a talk about my experience at my 2015 graduation ceremony at RIAT. I also co-received the Polly Vacher award for showing the highest determination to achieve success in my attempt to learn to fly. My scholarship was sponsored by The Honourable Company of Air Pilots and, becoming a member through this, have had the privilege to not only meet so many more incredible people but also to attend fun events and fly beautiful planes. Fiona and my husband organised for me to fly a Tiger Moth from Old Sarum for my big birthday present. That too went into my log book. I became a member of the BWPA, and attended many lectures at the Aeronautical Society. I’ve also been up in a plane to nowhere (it’s on the ticket) with Tim Peake and a whole bunch of other aero enthusiasts and watched the northern lights. The Red Arrows are also very kind and generous to all of us from FSDP.
Here are some more of my highlights since my scholarship: I have taken up painting and drawing again and held an exhibition, which went well; I designed and helped make the Queen’s 92nd birthday cake, putting it together with Camilla and Tom Kerridge at Clarence House, which was then presented to her at the Royal Albert Hall; I designed and helped make banners for the 100 year Votes For Women march and in Kensington Palace, with the banners finally chosen to hang inside the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank; flew a helicopter; made my own gin with a fellow FSDPer; visited no.10 Downing Street with another wonderful FSDPer friend; cake finalist for Bake for ME/CFS judged by Miranda Hart; watched Tornadoes refuel in the air close up; become a Reiki master; and I have just received a Highly Commended Award by the Centre of Excellence 2020 for being the most inspirational learner (this is for online studies).
I am still having to carefully manage my life and what I learnt from the scholarship, like accepting my disabilities and finding different coping mechanisms, is invaluable in how to still achieve things that mean a lot to me as well as making lifelong new friends. The scholarship has opened up a whole new world to me, which is fun and exciting, and my confidence has come back. I now also appreciate the little and quiet moments too.
Applying for the scholarship I was nervous, shy and confidence was certainly not my friend during those years. I felt like a lost soul. Since my road traffic accident in 2005 I had not only battled my spinal injuries, but a loss of identity and I was trying to come to terms with a very short career within the Royal Marines.
I couldn’t be prouder to say that I was offered a scholarship as apart of the 2008 batch. My experience with FSDP was truly life changing and eye opening . We were gifted the chance to train at 43 Air School, Port Alfred, South Africa. It’s a commercial flying school and the weather treated us very well for the 6 week duration. With 45 hours under my belt my next aim was to obtain a PPL. With lots of time spent on the M6 getting to Tatenhill and back. I finally achieved my aim of a PPL with Aerobility back in 2009.
My scholarship has not only been the catalyst for me to embrace my new life as a spinally injured wheelchair user but has given me the confidence to take my flying as far as I can. Since the scholarship I have completed my PPL, achieved a night rating/ instrument rating, obtained a Balloon PPL and flew around New Zealand as part of the Handiflight crew.
The flying community certainly has it’s characters and I wouldn’t have connected and made some amazing friendships if I hadn’t wheeled through those gates at RAF Cranwell. The home of aviation and the start of my FSDP journey.
Last year I felt I came full circle with FSDP. I shared a flight with 2 other scholars from different years. We all have our own internal battles with our disabilities, but for that one day we shared the skies with not one of us mumbling or groaning about our injuries. We helped and supported each other whilst sharing our passion of aviation. It was an awesome days flying !!!
My life outside of aviation involves being a husband to Jayne and a father to Xander (my future Co-pilot !!). I have a job were I go into schools and prisons working for a community programme called “Making Generation R” (R being Resilience). Delivering my story and explaining how I overcome my adversities. That’s funded by a charity BLESMA – The Limbless Veterans.
I plan to keep flying and grow the numbers within the North West. I’m passionate about my hobby and If I can get other disabled people interested and point them in the right direction then this can only be a good thing.
Good luck future scholars !!!!!
FSDP came to my rescue when I needed them the most but what happened after is a question I’m often asked.
I’d always been a motivated person after losing my right arm in a motocross accident at the age of 18, only 39 years ago. I say that with a laugh in my voice and a smile on my face because 39 years is a long time but it’s passed so quickly. However, the 9 years since being awarded a flying scholarship has passed even quicker.
My life changed the day I was offered a flying scholarship from FSDP because their generosity made me realise that there were still good people in the world. I’d had death threats for 6 years and endured litigation that resulted in the total collapse of my company and emotional strength. I was on the precipice of an emotional breakdown, my only option seemed to be to succumb to the emotional destruction of a breakdown or take the other exit route I had been contemplating - “suicide”.
When neither option was ideal, FSDP gave me an alternative, learn to fly and take on a new challenge. I wasn’t about to let such a fantastic opportunity pass me by so I grasped it with both hands, oops that should say with my one hand 🙂
I’m digressing because the question was what happened after my scholarship. With my faith in people restored and my zest for life recovered, I decided that nothing would hold me back again. I continued flight training at my own expense. Yes it was expensive and possibly not everyone can afford or want to continue with flight training but I was determined to reach my goal. I wanted to be a private pilot. I did eventually get my PPL in 2015, yes it took 3 years and a lot of money, lots of knock backs and having to make my own prosthetic arm. I’m proud of the fact I didn’t give up on my dream and I accomplished it.
I went on to be featured in many TV programs, “A Place In The Sun”, “ITV Nation News”, “The One Show”, “This Time Next Year” and many others. In fact at the time of writing this piece I’m filming for Channel 5. I can’t tell you the name of the show for legal reason but I can tell you, after the show I should look more than 5 years younger!
I’ve been a TV presenter, I’ve ridden my motorbike after 38 years out of the saddle on TV, I came 3rd in the national dressage qualifiers at Hartpury in the Cotswolds, I’ve made multiple prosthetics and helped others with their prosthetics. I was awarded The Douglas Bader Memorial Trophy and Yorkshire Inspirational Individual of The Year, but my most impressive award, The British Empire Medal, was awarded in The Queens New Year’s Honours list of 2017/18. I’ve bought more houses bringing my residential property portfolio to 10. I’ve restored multiple vintage jukeboxes and one arm bandits (pun intended) and got back into motorbikes but this time restoring vintage machines.
Due to the successes that followed my scholarship, I was propelled into the world of motivational speaking. I now travel the world speaking at conferences and international events. What an honour that is, to share my view on life and help others realise their full potential.
I’ve written my autobiography, it should have been released on April 19th 2020 the 38th year anniversary of losing my right arm but as with life in general at the moment, Covid-19 has forced postponements. I think you’ll like the title “No Arm In Trying”. There will of course be an FSDP edition. I hope my life experiences can help you overcome your obstacles.
I hear you say how is all this possible and with just one arm? The short answer is FSDP restored my life and gave me the confidence to pursue my dreams. “Anything is possible!” is my keynote speech and the moto I live my life by.
My life took a dramatic turn for the very best in July 2014, when I embarked on a journey I never for one moment dreamed I could. Learning to fly. Blimey, me, an interest in aviation for a long time but the idea of me being a pilot, don’t be daft, I can drive a car with hand controls, and I’m pretty nifty don’t get me wrong, but navigating the skies, that’s a different ball game altogether. But the selection board at RAF Cranwell where you dear reader, will attend for interviews, if selected, thought I could, and that meant everything.
I was duly and fervently guided by Fiona Luckhurst, Ray Proost and Kathryn Hutchings,at Shadow Aviation In Old Sarum,Salisbury, and the next 4 weeks of my life were the best I’ve ever experienced,and I mean that. My confidence soared, literally. and a belief in myself and my abilities ( forget disability, it doesn’t feature) reached an all time high. I’m very well aware of the terminology here, but I want you to keep reading...Belief in yourself is one thing but when a whole heap of others believe in you too, it’s empowering. The daily schedules and learning not just about flying, but about myself, set me on a path to conquer negativity and dismissive thoughts about my aptitude. I relished flying and I got so much from it. We were blessed with fantastic weather that summer, and flying two, sometimes three times a day, was the norm. A trip above Stonehenge, Longleat and The Needles on the Isle of Wight was soul fulfilling and spectacular. Cloud busting, not sure I should mention that, but what the hell, clouds are magical and serene and unlike anything you’ll ever witness close up.
My scholarship opened up new friendships and my life boldly turned around. I met amazing people and have made lifelong friends with some I only ever dreamt about knowing. Tim Prince, co founder of RIAT, the largest military air show in the world, is to be found mingling in the FSDP tent at that wonderful event each year, he knew Douglas Bader, enough said, great men indeed. His passion for FSDP oozes as you speak to him, that’s humbling in itself. The adorable and simply amazing Polly Vacher, female pilot extraordinaire, who has accomplished incredible feats in her Piper 28. Both endeared hugely by all of us. I got to be here, I was selected, I made it.
I have since then desperately wanted to give back to the charity that did indeed, no questions asked, change my life, so believe that strap line, because it’s true.
I have since gone onto raise funds for the charity along with Dr Eleanor Ivory, who along with Susie Dunbar I consider to be the First Ladies of FSDP, and form a friendship. Strong ties and others believing in you, never desert you ,so I wanted to give something back, and I set about doing so. I became the go between for The Red Arrows ( I live close to RAF Scampton where they are based) and various other organisations to enable scholars to meet the team and participate in other activities. Though sadly at least two opportunities I had planned including a trip to RAF Benson and helicopter rides ,were cancelled due to the virus, I hope we can re-engage when the country gets back on its feet. I did a wing walk on a Boeing Stearman, at Rencomb airfield with a donation from Vic Norman who owns the AeroSuperbatics wing walking team, after approaching him and telling him of the good work we do. I was wonderfully supported by Guy Bowen, and friends early one September morning, who came to cheer me on. It was exhilarating and heart pounding, and I was a teeny bit scared but what a memory! As a result of that I met James Brown who owns the only Hurricane (R4118) that flew in WW11, and sat in it and subsequently flew with him in a Harvard doing Aeros over Duxford airfield, WOW! I’ve flown with Arthur Williams, in his infamous Piper Cub he piloted on his Channel 4 show touring the skies. I’ve attended the Reds end of season guest night on a few occasions, and met Sir Ranulph Fiennes and dignitaries. I became a member of the British Women’s Pilot Association, and The Air Pilots Guild. They host a Trophies and awards ceremony each year at The Guildhall in London where I’ve met the most distinguished and highly regarded aviators in the world, including Nigel Lamb, a master of aerobatics, and Colin Bell, a Pathfinder in the Second World War. I met George ‘ Johnny’ Johnson, last surviving Dambuster, amongst others at the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) end of season guest night, a “pinch yourself” moment if ever there was one, being amongst the real heroes of that era, mingling with people like that is only ever something other people do, but here was I. And I could, and you can too, because that’s what FSDP does. It fills you with a sense of whole being and confidence, with an inherent belief that anyone that becomes part of its family can, and will succeed in whatever path they take. I sincerely hope that you, if you’re a potential scholar reading this, have the opportunity to have your life as vehemently enhanced as mine, by this wonderful charity.
Changing lives is what they do. The support you receive from the FSDP family is over whelming , so take that step, never look back, because that’s not where you’re going.