Author: Mary Doyle. Human doing, full time geek and wheelchair user, road tripper, aspiring writer, student pilot, space cadet, quaintrelle, Will work for cake.

This article will be a whirlwind introduction into disabled aviation. “Disabled aviation?” I hear you cry? How is that possible? It’s very possible and has been in history, throughout World War I and II where pilots who were injured continued with their flying careers. They just had to be creative and adaptable to get the job done. Think of Sir Douglas Badar, who is probably the most famous aviator due to the film Reach For the Sky. Check it out, he was pretty wild in his day.


Black and white image of Sir Douglas-Badar on the wing of his plane


Fast forward to now, and we have current pilots with a variety of disabilities. Aviation is an expensive drug, I’m not going to lie to you. However, attending air shows or your local airfield is a cheap way of getting a fix. If you’re interested in the freedom, travel, engineering, skills or the beauty of the aircraft there is something for everyone. There are also scholarships available, details below or contact me directly for more info. There are many regular disabled flyers and here are a few to show you what can be done.


Two men smiling widely pointing towards each other


Nathan Doidge – UK, A former FSDP scholar and all round adrenaline junkie with severe Cerebral Palsy (CP).  Nathan gained his pilot’s licence in August 2012, becoming the most disabled pilot in the UK and continues to smash preconceptions by being an all out party animal and good bloke. I’m lucky to call Nathan a friend and he is a great ambassador for living out loud (if only I could keep up!).


Jessica Cox standing in front of her plane, smiling


Jessica Cox – USA, Jessica holds the Guinness World Record for being the first armless person in aviation history to earn a pilot’s certificate. She is also a Black Belt in Taekwondo so could totally kick all our butts. Jessica is currently in litigation with Universal Orlando, as she was refused entry on one of their rides. There are limitations on various attractions for those with prosthetics and those without legs, and Jessica is looking for a change in their blanket rule. Jessica works as a motivational speaker.


Dave Jacka sitting in a place smiling


Dave Jacka – AUS, Dave broke his neck at 19, leaving him with just 6% physical function. Dave has a project management and engineering background, and I was lucky enough to meet up with him in Australia for some geekery. His achievements include being the first quadriplegic to fly solo around Australia, taking 38 days, using his breath for engine speed management instead of hands. This is epic, and shows how hard core Dave is. This year Dave was the first quad to paddle a kayak 2226 km down the Murray River in Australia.


WeFLy plane in the air, featuring picturesque blue sky


And there’s a bunch of Italians which are too cool for school.  A team of microlight display pilots, which perform at shows worldwide and hangout with astronauts like astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti. Flight engineer on the International Space Station for Expedition 42/43.

Flying Scholarships for Disabled People,, is a charity that provides a ‘once in a lifetime’ challenge for disabled people to help them realise their abilities through the medium of learning to fly. I did this and it changed everything, no joke. Get online for an application form and submit by 31 December 2016. Do it now, no guts, no glory. Tell them Mary sent you.

4 Responses

  1. Sue Austin

    Thanks Mary for a fascinating overview. Do you mind if I repost on my personal FB pages and on our Freewheeling4 FB page too? As you may know, hopefully I will be adding a flying wheelchair to the list of aeronautical options at some point in the near future so it’s great to raise awareness of all aspects of disabled aviation as part of that process!
    FYI: The flying wheelchair looks like a functional manual wheelchair but is also an aircraft in disguise! Technically, when the fly/dive wheelchair is a flying machine, it’s an SSDR paramotor so an NPPL will be required to fly it. It’s been test flown 3 times (thanks to Paul Bailey and Paul Mahoney at Bailey Aviation) so my next task is to finish off the NPPL (microlight) – i.e. flexwing – licence and then overcome motor co-ordination issues in order to fly a paratrike wing myself and gain powered parachute NPPL rating before progressing to the flying wheelchair itself. Then the fun of creating imagery can begin! This is all for my artwork called ‘Creating the Spectacle!’ that aims to transform preconceptions by creating the most stunning imagery we can of a wheelchair in the most unexpected places. When I say ‘we’ I refer to the whole group of amazing people who have joined me at different stages and worked with me at Freewheeling over the last 4 years in order to make the underwater wheelchair and now the flying wheelchair become a reality. It’s very much a ‘Will she! Won’t she!’ story at the moment though as I break the process down into micro steps to make it achievable.
    …. And (as the name suggests) the same wheelchair is still an underwater wheelchair because (with a change of attachments) it will dive too!

    • Mary Doyle

      Hi Sue,

      Sorry for the delay, I’ve only just received the notification on comments. Yes please share away, anytime, it’s a honour. Thank you! M

    • Mary Doyle

      Dave, I’m so happy you liked it. It’s a honour to have a friend who is so into adaptive adventures! Be lucky! M


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