A team of wounded service personnel will tomorrow (Saturday) take off from an airfield in Kemble, Gloucestershire, in an attempt to become the first disabled pilots to navigate the British coastline in a fleet of microlights, raising awareness of the military charity, Flying for Freedom.
Above the knee double amputee Capt. Luke Sinnott will lead the unique challenge, ‘Round Britain Flight, which aims to demonstrate how flying creates a sense of freedom for those with physical disabilities and inspire other injured or wounded servicemen and women to learn to fly.
The five microlights will depart from Cotswold Airport at 1500hrs and follow a 2000 mile route over 14 days. Each microlight will carry two people and be supported by a ground team travelling by road. The team plan to make over 20 stops and land at some of the UK’s most historic airfields. See the detailed schedule below; note dates may vary due to weather so please follow Facebook and twitter for the most up to date information.
Capt Sinnott qualified as a microlight pilot in 2014, training in Flying for Freedom’s modified flex-wing microlights. He planned the trip to highlight the importance of post-injury activities as part of a long-term recovery programme.
He said: “I lost my legs searching for IEDs in Afghanistan. Before the explosion I had been very active, playing rugby and sailing, so I needed to find something else to focus on. I had always wanted to learn to fly and Flying for Freedom gave me that opportunity.
When I fly I am free from my disability and on equal terms with able bodied pilots. Flying for Freedom is currently supporting me to become a flying instructor so I can train future disabled and able bodied people to fly.”
The route will be a true test of endurance due to the nature of the terrain the microlights will be flying over. Each pilot has overcome a life changing disability, caused by injury or sickness, to join the pilot programme funded by sponsorship through and public donations Flying for Freedom.
Flying for Freedom is partnered with Help for Heroes and supported by the Endeavour Fund, founded by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, Airbus Military and Lord Digby Jones of Birmingham.
Lt Col (Retd) James Harris, Co-Founder and Trustee for Flying for Freedom, said: “Flying for Freedom gives people a new focus after a life changing trauma or injury. Flying is very immersive and gives individuals used to being active a challenging outlet which is not restricted by their disability.”
The Round Britain Flight will highlight the importance of sustainable post-rehabilitation activities and help raise further funding. Donations can be made in several ways. A contribution of £3 can be made by texting ‘Wings’ to 70900 via a mobile phone. Alternatively, donations can be made by visiting the website: www.flyingforfreedom.org.
The disabled pilots, all of whom have served in the Royal Marines, Army or Royal Air Force, are from across the UK:
- Capt Luke Sinnott, Royal Engineers from New Milton, New Forest video bio link
- SSgt Matt Raasch-Sotinwa, Royal Engineers from Barnstaple, Devon video bio link
- Flt Lt Kat Janes, RAF from Alnwick, Northumberland video bio link
- Pte Nathan Forster, Parachute Regiment from South Shields, Tyne & Wear video bio link
- Cpl Alan Robinson, RAF from Howsham, Lincolnshire video bio link
- Mne Adam Coatsworth, Royal Marines, from Chapel-en-leFrith, High Peak Derbyshire.
- Mr Dave Sykes (civilian disabled) from Earlsheaton Dewsbury.
To follow the team’s progress in the Round Britain Flight, visit www.flyingforfreedom.org or follow @fly2pole on Twitter.
Text ‘WINGS’ to 70900 to donate £3 to Flying for Freedom Telephone helpline: 01494 750500
About Flying for Freedom:
Flying for Freedom has successfully trained wounded and injured pilots and given flying opportunities to many more. However, it does much more than provide a flight experience. The flying programme creates a club atmosphere where disability is irrelevant. Adapted aircraft make it possible for even severely disabled people to take to the air where it doesn’t matter if you are able or disabled. Qualified pilots are encouraged to train to become flying Instructors, teaching wounded servicemen and women to fly, thus ensuring an ongoing legacy.
John Laity, Co-Founder and Trustee Flying for Freedom: “Our flying programme requires on average 35 hours training to complete which means we get to know the pilots really well and create a flying community. This is really important as the injuries you see are not the most debilitating ones our pilots deal with”.
“Low, slow flying sometimes triggers memories of flying in Chinooks in Afghanistan and has kicked off some open discussions about PTSD. Having a group of pilots and instructors who have all dealt with similar traumas creates a supportive environment.”
Each year Flying for Freedom aims to mount a team expedition. Last year the team went to Northern Sweden to practice flying off snow. Project link: https://youtu.be/RIxD-k6jCQU
In Dec 2016 the team plans to attempt a flight across Antarctica, in their open cockpit microlights, a challenge that has never attempted by disabled or able-bodied pilots.