Boeing and the Air League have been partnering to offer gliding scholarships to inner city students since May 2012, when the announcement was made in the presence of HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, as he celebrated 60 years as the Air League’s patron. Due to its success, in 2013 Boeing and The Air League decided to expand the programme to wounded veterans in collaboration with Aerobility, which provides flying lessons in specially modified aircraft that can accommodate wheelchairs and power-chairs. Since 2012, a total of 100 flying scholarships have been awarded.
Gliding scholarships for inner city students
Each year up to nine students from London are selected to participate in the gliding scholarships programme after passing a rigorous selection process. The students are then placed in an intensive two-week gliding course at the London Gliding Club in Dunstable, where they are trained by expert pilots and mentored by experienced professionals from the Air League with the ultimate goal of flying solo. The selection process is managed in conjunction with Air League corporate supporters British Airways and Linklaters at the global headquarters of the airline next to Heathrow Airport.
“I’ve always loved planes, but I didn’t think that sort of opportunity would come up at my school,” said Roma Gajre, one of the Skinners Academy scholars. “I jumped at the chance to apply to learn how to fly a glider, and I cannot believe that, less than two weeks after setting foot in one, I am almost ready to fly solo. I’ve proved to myself that I can achieve anything I put my mind to. And now I know I want to work in aviation when I finish my education.”
Jenny Wilkins, principal of Skinners Academy, said the lessons taught the students more than just about flight. “We’re grateful to the Air League and Boeing for giving our students the chance to learn how to fly a glider solo," Wilkins said. "They have learned so many valuable life skills, such as communication, self-reliance, responsibility and teamwork, which will stand them in good stead for their future careers.”
In 2013 Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, sent his congratulations: "My warmest wishes to all the students for their remarkable achievements."
Ballooning scholarships for veterans
After Royal Air Force pilot Tim Ellison injured his spine and legs in a crash, he was told he would never fly again. But the determined father has proved everyone wrong. In 2001, he became the first disabled pilot to fly around the world and in 2014, thanks to the Boeing-funded ballooning scholarship provided by The Air League, he was the first person with a disability to become a fully qualified hot air balloon pilot in Europe.
Ellison was piloting a Harrier jet 22 years ago when its engine failed as he hovered over RAF Wittering Air Base in the United Kingdom. The jet fell 120 feet (37 meters), crashing onto the tarmac. The aircraft burst into flames, leaving Ellison unconscious and his spine shattered in five places. Both his legs and ankles were broken. For two weeks, he lay unconscious in intensive care. Doctors told him he would never walk or fly again.
Because of his flying experience, Ellison quickly picked up ballooning and reached the required standard about halfway through the training course, which took two weeks.
“The incredible success of the 2012 Paralympic Games in London made me think that the time was right to promote ballooning as an all-inclusive sport, not just in the UK, but worldwide,” said Brian Jones, Ellison’s trainer and a pilot who completed the first successful balloon circumnavigation of the world in 1999. “The introduction of the dual-chair system allows an instructor to sit next to the student, with all controls easy to hand, so there is no barrier to wounded servicemen such as Tim to qualify as a balloon pilot. In two years from now, I would like to see training operations for disabled pilots available in most European countries.”
“Our partnership with Boeing has enabled us to increase our engagement with young people and servicemen and women,” said Andrew Brookes, director of the Air League. “Flying boosts confidence and accelerates psychological and physical recuperation. We look forward to working with Boeing and helping brave men and women rebuild their strength.”
Flying scholarship for wounded servicemen and women
In 2013 Karl Hinett, who in 2005 was wounded in Iraq as a member of the Staffordshire Infantry Regiment in the British Army, completed a Boeing-sponsored flying scholarship in partnership with the Air League, Aerobility and Help for Heroes.
Hinett joined the Staffordshire Infantry Regiment at age 17, and within 18 months was posted to Basra, Iraq. While working as a gunner in an armored car, he was seriously injured in a riot, suffering third-degree burns on 40 percent of his body. After returning to the UK, he spent five years being treated in hospitals, undergoing 16 operations to treat his face, arms, stomach and legs. “When I found out I’d been given the chance to learn how to fly, it felt like I’d won the lottery,” Hinett said. “After Iraq, I felt like I was at a crossroads in life. Either you let it take over or you decide to make the most of what you’ve got, and I chose the latter. Ever since I was fully rehabilitated, I’ve been pushing myself to overcome new challenges, whether that’s completing 100 marathons in 24 months, or climbing Mount Everest. It’s difficult, but very rewarding, and after I gain my pilot’s license, I plan to continue training to become a commercial pilot in the future.”
“Karl is an incredibly inspiring individual, having overcome some daunting challenges to learn how to pilot an aeroplane,” said Mike Miller-Smith, CEO of Aerobility. “It is a surprise to many people -- disabled and able-bodied -- that flying is very much a possibility for people with a range of disabilities. Indeed, disabled flying can provide a level of challenge and exhilaration that may be difficult to find anywhere else.”
About the charities
The Air League was formed in 1909 with the goal of encouraging the UK to appreciate the importance of air superiority. One of the most lasting achievements of the Air League in its first 30 years was to found the Air Defence Cadet Corps in 1938, which is now the Air Cadets. More than 100 years after it was formed, the Air League’s mission is to enhance national understanding of the importance to the UK of aviation and aerospace, and to excite young people’s interest in these areas by helping them get involved. Boeing is a longstanding partner of the Air League as part of its commitment to make a positive contribution in the communities in which the company operates. www.airleague.co.uk
Aerobility is a registered charity founded in 1993 and run largely by disabled aviators based at Blackbushe Airport, southwest of London, offering disabled people, without exception, the opportunity to fly aircraft and qualify as pilots. Aerobility provides "experience of a lifetime" trial flying lessons for as many terminally ill and disabled people as possible every year. Through the Boeing funded flying scholarships in collaboration with the Air League, approximately 50 hours of training per student are provided, including navigation, communication, weather assessment, as well as flight simulation and eventually solo flights. Aerobility also gives advice, knowledge and advocacy for disabled people who wish to fly and is the representative body for disabled aviation within the U.K. www.aerobility.com