• Injured Harrier pilot gains lift as balloonist

    LONDON,  February 19, 2014 - 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.

    Now, with the help of a Boeing-funded ballooning scholarship provided by The Air League in the United Kingdom, Ellison is the first person with a disability to become a fully qualified hot air balloon pilot in Europe.

    “Tim was an exceptional student, and his focus and determination are truly inspirational,” said Sir Roger Bone, president of Boeing UK. “We congratulate Tim on his incredible achievement, and we are proud to have been able to support him.”

    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.

    However, Ellison was determined to prove everyone wrong and swore to return to the skies. He traveled to the United States to learn to fly again in a specially adapted aircraft. Two years later, he gained his Federal Aviation Administration commercial flying license.

    He worked as a forest firefighting pilot until 1997, when he became the first paraplegic in the world to gain an Airline Transport Pilots License. In 2001, Ellison became the first British disabled pilot to fly 30,000 miles  (48,300 kilometers) around the world.


    Because of his flying experience, Ellison quickly picked up ballooning and had reached the required standard about halfway through the training course, which took two weeks. In order to qualify, he had to meet the requirement of 16 flying hours under instruction, which he completed in January.

    Ellison is the first wounded former serviceman to train to pilot a balloon under the Boeing-funded Air League scholarship program, which offers scholarships annually.

    “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.

    "Tim has done extremely well and picked up ballooning very quickly. In two years from now, I would like to see training operations for disabled pilots available in most European countries.”