Thanks to Airbnb I was lucky enough to be invited to go and fly a plane with Aerobility and be part of a short film for Airbnb to promote something exciting they have in the pipeline (not allowed to reveal what it is yet but stay tuned!) I was aware of opportunities to fly a small plane, and even gain a pilot’s license with organisations such as Flying Scholarships for Disabled People, but I had never had a go since my disability. I’m a comfortable flyer on commercial planes, having been fortunate enough to travel a lot, but haven’t been in a small winged plane like this one since I was much younger when I rode in my uncle’s Tiger Moth – an experience I remember enjoying very much as a child.
This experience was slightly different however. For starters, I now have a disability and was a worried about how easy it would be to get into the plane. I like to do things where I know I can be independent and as I wasn’t going with anyone, being the stubborn person I am, I didn’t want to have to ask for help. And secondly I had been told I would have the opportunity to fly the plane myself. A prospect that made me very excited, but also unsure what to expect.
The day itself
Luckily it was a beautiful March day with very clear blue skies. I met the pilot, JJ, who I was going to be flying with and he gave me a good explanation of what was going to happen, and also about the plane and how it flew. I really didn’t know anything about how a pilot controls the flaps on a plane’s wings and this affects direction, height and speed. So that was interesting to hear about. We both were interviewed by the film crew and off we went!
Getting into the plane
JJ explained to me how I could get in the plane, by transferring onto the wing and then shuffling up to get into the cockpit. They also had a hoist for those who need it. I was pleased to see that the wing wasn’t too high and so the transfer wasn’t too difficult. I’m often surprised at how some transfers aren’t as hard as I think they might be. Especially when you’re concentrating and thinking about technique. So my worries about that were unforeseen. I climbed over into my seat and buckled myself in. Once I was in JJ explained lots to me about the plane – there were lots of controls, as anyone who’s seen Pearl Harbor or Top Gun will know.
Once we were both strapped in and had our headsets on JJ gave me a checklist to read out pre-flight. I understand that it’s something a pilot always needs to do for safety so it was kind of interesting, and reassuring I guess!
We taxied (flying term for driving a plane around on the ground) to the start of the runway and as another pilot and cameraman were going to be following us to film us from the air, we waited for them to get in position. Once they were we got moving pretty rapidly, having not been particularly nervous I was definitely a little bit at that point. Soon we had taken off, with me feeling like I’d left my stomach on the ground! I was absolutely buzzing! It was so cool to see the ground get smaller and smaller as we ascended, especially from such a tiny plane. Once we’d reached about 8,000 feet JJ let me take the controls. I started off turning very apprehensive but as I got used to it I became more comfortable. It was very cool to be able to have total control over the plane and to see how you turn or ascend or descend.
I also really liked seeing the plane that was coming up on our side to film us, I think it gave a different perspective seeing another aircraft and humans up in the sky too!
JJ pointed out various things to me from the sky, including things I was familiar with like Didcot Power Station (it was near where I lived when I was younger) which was cool to see from the sky as well as pointing out Basingstoke, a town I visited my brother in a few months ago. It was much closer than it looked on Google Maps!
Finishing off a great day
We came down, finished off with a final interview with the crew, and I got back into my wheelchair. I was so pleased it wasn’t an issue at all. JJ made me feel very at ease, was good at explaining everything, so I learned a thing or two as well as being able to fly an aircraft.
Aerobility are a wonderful charity that has been going for over 25 years. They offer flying experiences to all people with disabilities ‘without exception’ and now have three sites across the UK.
All in all, it was a great experience, and I am really grateful for Airbnb for the opportunity. If you’re interested go and check out the page and you can see the film clips from the day there and sign up to have a go yourself. I’m really excited about what Airbnb have coming up. I already regularly use them when I’m travelling and I have seen some cool experiences on theren so can’t wait to try some more out. Thanks to them for letting me have the film which you can see on our Instagram account.