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Buzz Aldrin’s Efforts To Help Disabled People Fly

October 9, 2012

Buzz Aldrin has arrived in Britain to help people with disabilities become pilots.

The Apollo 11 Astronaut signed up to fly virtual journeys in a round-the-world flight-simulator challenge.

He is one of 100 pilots who are attempting to fly 22,000 nautical miles over 10 days for the charity Aerobility and set a new Guinness world record for the longest duration simulator flight.

Other pilots taking part include ex-England international and former RAF pilot Rory Underwood, chief executive of BA’s parent company Willie Wals; Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson; RAF chief Sir Stephen Dalton and explorer David Hempleman-Adams.

They hope to raise £100,000 to buy a new flight simulator adapted to help people with physical disabilities, sensory disabilities and learning difficulties fly a plane.

Flying to freedom

Buzz Aldrin, whose ‘journey’ involved ‘flying’ over Indonesia, told BBC Radio 4’s programme You and Yours he was delighted he could fit it into his schedule: “I’m so happy that I am able to see what good work is being done here by the charity.

“The simulator can be a very useful tool in building the confidence and the sense of well-being and sense of achievement of disabled people.

“And it’s not just a dexterity test – it’s actually leading towards flying an aeroplane, which gives a sense of freedom to people.”

People like ex-soldier Dave Rawlins who, until 18 months ago, had never flown a plane. He was injured in 2008 while working in Afghanistan.

After lengthy rehabilitation and recovery he decided to take up flying in April 2011. His first lesson was with the disabled flying charity Aerobility in a flight simulator.

Dave says without the simulator he would not have dared to try: “The simulator is a fantastic bit of kit, it helps us go through all our emergency procedures – stuff that you don’t want to do in the air like turning off the engine, you can do in the simulator and that’s what it is all about!”

It allows trainee pilots to practise safely before leaving the ground, and is a fraction of the cost of taking a plane up.

“You can adjust the weather to how you want it, you can make failures happen – instrument failures, engine failures, fires – and you can go through all your procedures.”

Buzz Aldrin said a flight simulator is crucial for any type of flight – including the Apollo 11 Moon landing in 1969.

“I spent a lot of time with my crew mates in the lunar module simulator in Houston, and then in a very advanced high-fidelity replica of the actual lunar module, for the last month of training, before the Apollo 11 mission.

“The command module simulator was used primarily for Mike Collins, who was the command module pilot, and we would get together, the three of us, [Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Mike Collins] if we were simulating a part of the mission – going to the Moon, or coming back from the Moon – where we were making critical manoeuvres to come back to Earth.”


The 82-year-old said the simulator flights ironed out potential problems that could have arisen during the historic Moon landing: “There would have been a lot of on-the-spot changes and maybe mistakes made, but you learn how to deal with the emergency situations.

“I’m sure that as part of the confidence-building for Aerobility, occasionally there are little surprises put in there, to see if the alert trainee or operator can identify and come up with what the fix is, because that could also happen actually during a flight.”

Dave Rawlins achieved the 45 hours single-engine flying time needed to win a private pilots licence at the beginning of 2012.

Then he heard Paralympic organisers were searching for a disabled pilot to conduct the flypast at the Paralympic Games opening ceremony for London 2012. He applied, took a navigational test, and won.

With co-pilot Tim Orchardas – a former Concorde pilot – he flew low over the packed stadium.

“We were 800ft above the Olympic Stadium, at night, heading towards it, with flash photography going off – it was just this unbelievable picture in front of me. I am very lucky.”

Dave recently left the Army, and his hobby has now turned into the day job – he has just been offered a position with an aviation company.

Fresh perspective

Mike Miller-Smith, the chief executive of Aerobility said: “To have the support of aerospace hero Buzz Aldrin is incredible. Mr Aldrin has truly seen the world from a different perspective, from the Moon.

“For disabled people, life is often about exploring capabilities and facing new challenges – and in a small way this perspective is the same.”

Last year nearly 400 people flew in Aerobility’s specially adapted aircraft or in a flight simulator from the charity’s headquarters at Blackbushe Airport in Camberley, Surrey.

The simulator is made from a genuine fuselage of a Piper Warrior aeroplane, identical to the training aircraft used by the charity. Surrounding screens show accurate, projected videos of the passing scenery and engine noises are designed to emulate the real thing.

Mike is confident anyone who wants to fly can fly: “Everyone gets the chance to participate, so the aircraft (and the simulator) are adapted for people with different physical disabilities to fly. We also work with people who have learning difficulties as well.

“The aircraft have a hand control to allow someone with a learning disability for example, to operate the rudder and the simulator is adapted in exactly the same way.

“We’ll get someone in the air or in the simulator – it’s great fun.”

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