Reaching for the sky
Over Shute Harbour on the Queensland coast, a pilot in a small, light single-engine aircraft battled against an unexpected wind gust as he came in to land. In this area pilots are constantly reminded of the dangers of cross winds, and this pilot was fighting to gain control after the wind had caused havoc.
Sort it out or you die, the pilot told himself. And while he continued circling above, he slowly managed to re-position himself, gain control and land his plane. He also breathed a huge sigh of relief.
He later recalled,
It was one of my worst landings ever but I was down.
This was just one of the moments Dave Jacka experienced earlier this year when he became the first person with quadriplegia to fly solo around Australia.
Dave’s dream of flying began when he was a young boy. But at the age of 20, a motorbike accident left him with only six per cent of his body function.
Nevertheless years later, Dave was still determined to fly.
When I decided to learn to fly, the hardest part was about finding someone prepared to give me a go. Most people couldn’t see the possibilities. It took a long time and a lot of persuasion, says Dave.
Most times we are limited by not only what we think we can do, but also by other peoples’ opinions of what we can do. But I say if there’s a maybe, there’s a possibility.
Dave bought a small fixed wing, twin seater Jabiru J230 plane, specifically engineered with his self-designed modifications. For example, turning the plane left or right is usually operated through foot pedals. But in this case, it is controlled by a lever Dave pushes around with his hands secured in wrist braces.
The speed of the plane is normally controlled by a rod on the dashboard pulled in and out. The throttle in Dave’s plane is controlled by sucking and blowing through a plastic tube attached to his headset. This adaptive adjustment enables Dave to fly despite having limited body movement.
Once Dave made the decision to fly around Australia he knew he needed a support team of pilots and carers.
I was looking for a couple of support plane pilots. It was important to get the right people along on the journey with me. But eventually it all fell into place, he says.
The epic journey
After six years of planning Dave finally set off on his epic journey around Australia.
The flight itself was amazing. At times I loved it and hated it. It challenged my skills and physical endurance. But more than anything it was tough mentally.
There were many challenges in what Dave says was
an exhausting endurance test of fly, land, eat, blog and bed.
It wears you down, but you know if you make the wrong decision, you die.
Of course there were also many good times.
Seeing this country from the air was just amazing. And experiencing the generosity of the people we met along the way was something else. They couldn’t do enough for us, says Dave.
Pride of Australia
After this epic journey of determination, Dave has been deservedly awarded with the Pride of Australia medal. After all the excitement, Dave’s promised himself a well-earned rest. However, I recently saw a photo of the man himself floating around in a kayak. Is there another challenge on the way? Dave says no. Either way, I trust he is well secured in that kayak.