(This post appeared as my regular column on http://www.multiplesclerosisnewstoday.com)
Flight is freedom in its purest form,
To dance with the clouds which follow a storm;
To roll and glide, to wheel and spin,
To feel the joy that swells within;
To leave the earth with its troubles and fly,
And know the warmth of a clear spring sky
— Gary Claud Stokor
I’ve been there. I’ve done that. I’ve climbed out into a sunrise and have felt the freedom of flight.
I earned my private pilot’s license in the late 1970s, a few years before I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I haven’t flown in a long time, though, because I quickly learned that I couldn’t fly frequently enough to stay sharp enough to stay safe. But I’ve never lost the love of flying. And my eyes turn skyward every time I hear a light aircraft pass overhead.
So, I was very interested to read an article on The Telegraph (U.K.) web site about eleven disabled people in the U.K.who have recently learned to fly. They all received no-cost lessons that were sponsored by a U.K. group called Flying Scholarships for Disabled People. Since 1983 more than 400 people have taken flying lessons from FSDP. Most of them have flown solo, or solo with an instructor, by the end of the program. Some have even continued on to get their private pilot’s “ticket.” And, yes, some of those students had MS.
Another organization in the U.K. that puts disabled folks in the pilot’s seat is Aerobility. Like FSDP, it provides lessons at no cost and is run by volunteers. Similar organizations exist elsewhere. Among them, Able Flight in the U.S. and Wheelies with Wings in Australia.
Medical certification is required for a pilot’s license no matter what the country. Here in the U.S., a diagnosis of MS means an extra neuropsychological evaluation, adding an extra hurdle over which to jump. But, it can be done.
Dierdre Dacey diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at age 16 and by the time she was in college, she had to begin using a wheelchair. Through the Able Flight program she earned her Sport Pilot’s License. Her words on the Able Flight web site, should give you all the encouragement you need:
“Able Flight has changed my life. I always wanted to fly but was told it would never happen. Able Flight took me out of that box and told me to go fly and be free. Even though it was completely new to me and I had had no former experience, everyone was supportive and positive and certain I would be able to do this…and I did! I will never be able to say, “Thank You!” enough!”