Monthly Archives: April 2014

SCI Superstar: Capt. Stewart McQuillan

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They say the desire to be up in the great blue yonder is something you’re born with. If that’s true, then that certainly explains Captain Stewart McQuillan’s lifelong passion for aviation, the world’s first paraplegic to fly a helicopter.

A hardy veteran of the Royal Air Force, McQuillan’s father and grandfather were both pilots and he himself began flying at 11 years old, but he’s much more than just a pilot. He’s also an electrical engineer and the brain behind a groundbreaking device that allows those with paralysis to fly a helicopter (or any other rotary device).

For a fearless story that crosses oceans and endless skies, read on to be inspired by Captain Stewart McQuillan.

Why he’s fearless

It was a crushing blow quite literally – by a Tornado GR1- that brought McQuillan into the world of disability. While checking out an issue, the air brakes failed and before he knew it his spinal cord crushed. At 29 years old and thick into his military career, this was not something he planned for.

When he was in rehab and was told he could no longer fly helicopters, one of his favorite aircraft, he was definitely more than perturbed. Most of us see this kind of thing happen to us right after our injuries. “Ok grreat…one more thing I can’t do.”

While in rehab, one good thing and one bad thing happened to him. The bad – no one thought he could fly. It was 1988 too and no one had heard of a paralyzed pilot before. And the good – after rehab he was offered a Air Force scholarship and learned how to fly single-engine fixed wing aircraft.

Quickly thereafter, King Hussein of Jordan then asked him to begin working on a device that would allow people who are paralyzed to fly helicopters, and thus began the Aeroleg journey.

McQuillan quickly realized he had an opportunity to make flying a helicopter possible for people with paralysis. Inspired by the movie Robocop, McQuillan knew we needed what Robocop wore on the outside his legs to fly safely – an external metal sheath that could be controlled. After months of working on the device, the Aeroleg was born – a $30,000 device marvel.

The way the Aeroleg is made is relatively simple, even though getting it on can be a smidge cumbersome. It only goes on the right leg and it has a separate pneumatic hand control just for the thumb, which is what lets you control the legs, both the ankle and knee; each necessary to fly a helicopter. This is some impressive fine-tuned stuff.

The Aeroleg was actually approved by the FAA back in 2002, but only in the last five years has it been actively used in the disability community. McQuillan decided to team up with partners too to create a disability flight school called Return Flight in Denver, Colorado a couple of years ago after moving to CO from the UK (with his wife Honey in 2010).

They even purchased 150 acre tract of land and began teaching people disabilities (mainly young male paraplegics) how to fly helicopters. Unfortunately however, the flight school is on hold due to financial issues.

What’s next?

With Return Flight on hold, McQuillan is busy helping give Aeroleg a leg up. He’s been making fresh videos, like this one, explaining the Aeroleg in more detail.

A brave spirit that refuses to be grounded, Captain Stewart McQuillan joins the ranks of some of the most important wheelchair-users ever. To invent such a life-changing device and have the no-fear attitude it takes to tackle the intimidating world of flying choppers, now that is something to behold.

Would you fly a helicopter using an Aeroleg?

Watch the videos!

–  AOL Profile: Inspirational Paraplegic Pilot Captain Stewart McQuillan

Capt. Stewart explains the Aeroleg in detail

Newbie paralyzed pilot being taught by Capt. Stewart how to fly a helicopter

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Adapted Skydiving Part Deux: The No Fear Club

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One of the sweetest releases of life in a wheelchair is without question skydiving. When you’re barreling through the sky at 200 miles an hour, it’s hard to think about your limited mobility. In fact, it’s pretty much an afterthought.

And we here at SPINALpedia believe this freeing thing is something all people with disabilities need to experience. For many people with disabilities, skydiving takes them out of their “spot” and into a more tactile world. It’s hard to not feel alive when you’re skydiving.

For videos that touch on the braveness required for skydiving, here are three that do just that, including a few tough paraplegics and quadriplegics who are determined to do what they want t no matter what.

Video #1: Coca Cola Profiles Avid Disabled Skydiver – Matt Dooley

Matt Dooley, a 19 year old young man with cerebral palsy, has never been able to walk, but that doesn’t mean he can’t go skydiving. A life full of excitement and hope is what every person with a disability wants, and because of skydiving Matt Dooley can now partake.

He has jumped a number of times in fact. His “no fear” bada#! attitude it so fiery he even has a giant mural/Fat Head on his bedroom wall dedicated to skydiving, showing him jumping tandem with an able-bodied instructor (now that’s a site to wake up to every morning). Listen to Matt talk about why he loves skydiving

Video #2: Extreme Quad Skydiver, and Sportscar Racer

For a peek into the life of an extreme quad, our next video will certainly satisfy. It shows a buff C7 quad boarding a tiny plane, reaching 10,500 ft., then jumping out like it was nothing. It’s done tandem, so technically he gets pulled out by the guy attached to him, but it’s a very cool thing to see.

The video stays on the entire fall too so you can see our beautiful green Earth inch closer and closer as he readies to land on his butt (careful for tailbone injuries). This video also shows him behind the wheel of a Nissan GT-R; the first quad to drive this high-end sportscar. Watch the “extreme quad” go skydiving

Video #3: Adapted Skydiving Down Under (with Elmo)

For a look at how adapted skydiving is done in Australia, our next video from Skydive Airlie Beach will make you wish you had gone skydiving yesterday; that’s how fun it looks, and the outgoing instructors are a HUGE part of it.

It shows him receiving lessons from them (“You got it, mate?!” heh), getting on his gear and the fearful flight up. Once they reach altitude, out he goes, giving some mighty funny faces to the camera and chatting up in the air with his instructor. His Elmo doll goes along for the ride too. Watch and be inspired by Mark Hansen

Love it or hate it, skydiving is one polarizing recreational activity, but no matter where you stand on the issue, it’s hard to deny how healing it can be for people with disabilities. It allows us to get out of our wheelchairs and no longer be weighed down by our bodies. It may cost a pretty penny and an airplane ride to do so, but boy is it worth it.

Have you tried skydiving? What tips would you give to interested people with disabilities?

Watch the videos!

Coca-Cola commercial of a wheelchair-user going skydiving

Quadriplegic going skydiving, and racing his sportscar on a racetrack

T10 paraplegic goes skydiving in Australia

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