I’ve had pretty much a lifelong dream -- learning to fly. That notion was inspired by my dad, a policeman and parttime commercial pilot. Flying was his passion. He would sneak away from school when he was 16 (c 1935) and take flying lessons from a barnstormer in an OX-5 Swallow, an open-cockpit biplane.
“Kinda hard to land,” I remember dad saying. “It just wanted to float along. You had to make it land.” But he learned to fly that plane and flew many others before he was grounded in the late '60s by heart problems. My dream was grounded in the ’60s, too.
I was a pitcher. Got a line drive to the forehead, resulting in a scar on my brain that gave me epilepsy, meaning I couldn’t pass a flight physical. Over time, I outgrew the epilepsy, as the doctors had said. But it was part of my history and continued to carry the stigma that has prevailed through the decades. Bypass surgery a while back probably was the final nail in my dream, but I don’t know for sure.
I’ve always rejoiced at news that someone has earned their private pilot certificate. I enjoy surfing websites devoted to airplanes and aviation. One of my all-time favorite poems is "High Flight." I follow Cessna Pilot Centers (CPC) on Facebook, and it was there earlier this week that a CPC post stunned me.
“Here's a thumbs up,” the item read, “to Michael Boland, deaf/amputee pilot who got his ratings at Marcair (one of our CPCs in the DFW area), and who just checked out at Sonoma's Skypark Aviation, our CPC in Sonoma County, CA! Yes, deaf can fly.”
I had no idea that folks with those sorts of disabilities could qualify for flight training much less for private pilot certification. My heart soared for them. Then I Googled “disabled private pilots,” and a new world of information opened up. One website, Flight-Ability, lists 91 disabled aviators around the world, including Boland.
I was amazed. I was encouraged as well. Maybe I could learn to fly after all. I’ll look into it.
I contacted Marcair, a CPC headquartered at Northwest Regional Airport in Roanoke north of here, to ask about Mike Boland and disabled aviators. Charlie Yates returned my query. He remembered Boland and was glad to hear about him getting checked out in California. And he told me about going to the Oshkosh airshow last year and meeting a woman aviator with no arms. She puts her headset on with her feet, he said, and she flies a specially designed Aircoupe, which has no rudder pedals to begin with.
Then I contacted Boland, who’s a mechanic for American Airlines and a North Texan. Very nice fellow with hopes to become a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) so he can teach other disabled folks to fly. I asked if he would let me blog about him, and he agreed, so here in the next few days, watch for a Q&A with him.
I thought I had a passion for airplanes, a love of flying and a dream of learning to fly, but all of that pales in the light of aviators like Boland, that woman at Oshkosh and the pilots on Flight-Ability’s website. I’m sure each has an incredibly inspiring story to tell. I’m looking forward to this blog sharing a little bit about Mike Boland.
Perhaps reading about his achievements against such odds will inspire anyone to reach for a dream, whether it's learning to fly or whatever. They've certainly given me enough hope to look into whether my dream's possible.
Any thoughts? Your comments are always welcome.