Last Monday morning a small plane rose into the skies over Glasgow on the first leg of a two-day round-Scotland charity flight relay being flown by disabled pilots.
By lunchtime David Morton (28), from Inverness, who has cerebral palsy, was at the controls of the Piper Cherokee Warrior 2 as it landed in Dundee. He, in turn handed over to Pauline Gallagher (39), from Greenock, who has athetoid cerebral palsy and moderate hearing loss for the next leg.
That’s the whole point of the Freedom of Flight Relay Challenge and why businesses around Scotland, including BT, Barnetts Motor Group and Insights, have sponsored legs of the high-flying event, which clocked up more than 700 nautical miles in two days.
The challenge visited every county in Scotland, with each leg being flown by a disabled pilot, or one under instruction. It set off at 8am from Glasgow and visited Skye, Oban and Inverness before landing at Perth and then Dundee.
After that the challenge route headed on to Leuchars, before ending day one at Prestwick.
On Thursday the relay got a touch of celebrity glamour when it switched planes to the Riems/Cessna FR172F seaplane G-DRAM used in the David Beckham Haig Club TV advert.
It flew to Loch Doon and Glenbuck Loch in Ayrshire and Loch Talla in the Borders before using special permission to splashdown on Strathclyde Loch for the first time. After that the challenge completed its epic journey with flights on to Loch Lubnaig in the Trossachs, Greenock and Largs before returning to Prestwick.
The purpose of the event was to raise awareness of disabled flying in the UK, collect much-needed funds to support those using the power of flight to increase confidence and self-esteem as well as bring together the community of disabled pilots in a shared endeavour which will inspire the wider population.
The Relay Challenge is being organised by Greenock woman Pauline Gallagher (39), a former scholar of Flying Scholarships for Disabled People (FSDP), one of the beneficiaries of the event, who’s used learning to fly to overcome some of her physical limitations. She will fly the leg from Leuchars to Prestwick.
She was born with athetoid cerebral palsy and moderate hearing loss. She wasn’t able to walk until she was four, writing took longer. A nursery day out to Glasgow Airport when she was four inspired her dream to learn to fly.
“Every four-year-old has a dream. That was mine.” At 15 she joined her local air cadets and at 17 won an hour’s trial lesson for her effort. She’s since been involved with the ATC, rising to officer in her local squadron.
In 2004 she won a scholarship from Flying Scholarships for Disabled People (FSDP). It’s helped her gain 40 hours towards her Private Pilot’s Licence, including her first solo flight in April 2011. Since then she’s been involved in fundraising and mentoring for FSDP. Its aim is to use learning to fly to increase the confidence and self-esteem of disabled people. Pauline also administers Aerobility operations at Prestwick Flying Club, her local flying club.
Explaining her reasons for taking part, she said: “FSDP helped me realise my dream of flying a light aircraft solo. Further flight training – to gain a Private Pilot’s Licence – has been supported by Aerobility, the other beneficiary of the Challenge.”
“FSDP gave me a way forward with the medical certification necessary for flying. It’s given me so much – for example the confidence to stand up and speak to a room full of strangers. Flying solo for the first time was the realisation of a dream.”
“Thanks to all the sponsors the Freedom of Flight Relay Challenge is able to spread the word about FSDP, Aerobility and its goals and to give someone else that way forward, as well as the confidence to make their dream come true.
“It’s not too late to donate to the challenge via our Virgin Money Giving page at: http://bit.ly/FreedomOfFlight.”
Barnetts Motor Group chairman, Paul Barnett, who’s had a Private Pilot’s Licence since 1990, committed the firm to providing local logistical and media support in Tayside to the Challenge as soon as he heard about it last year. He’s also sponsoring the leg from Perth to Dundee and will see it completed today.
He said: “As soon as Pauline contacted me I knew I had to help, so I could share my passion for the freedom of flying with people less able to enjoy it through disability.”
Paul asked his friend and fellow aviation enthusiast, Andy Lothian, Chief Executive of Insights, to sponsor a leg, which he immediately agreed to do. He first flew solo at 8.10am on the morning of his 17th birthday – the earliest time possible – and went on to gain his Commercial Pilot’s Licence, Parachuting Pilot Examiner qualification and 1,600 hours flying time across the UK and Europe including display aerobatics. He’s sponsoring the leg from Inverness to Perth.
Andy Lothian said: “Everyone should have the opportunity to experience the joy of flight. The Relay Challenge will enable many more to do so – particularly some of those who may not otherwise have the chance. It’s a great event for a great cause and I hope more people donate via the Virgin Money page.”
Further information on the Relay Challenge, including how to donate funds, is available at: www.freedom-of-flight.co.uk