Hi, my name is Tim. To answer anybody’s initial question – I have been the fulltime-owner of a wheelchair for just over five years now, since being hit by a lorry on the 4th july 2016 – my ‘non-Independance day’!
Flying is something I have wanted to do for an exceptionally long time, the majority of my life in fact, as with some other activities that have ruled my life. However much I enjoy other activities, I have always gravitated back to the want to fly.
I had the opportunity to fly in a light aircraft in my earlier life, and then a couple of gliders after my accident, managing to take the controls briefly on all occasions – what a truly exhilarating experience. Its funny, when something serious has changed your life, you are always left questioning why you did not just follow your dreams when you had the chance. It sounds like a cliché, but you never know what in life is going to happen next.
I grew up near to the Ridgeway so would often see folk paragliding, but, It was in 2007 when I heard about Bear Grylls flying a Paramotor over the summit of Mt Everest, the task immediately opening my eyes, the machine, the ‘Paramotor’ absolutely fascinated me. I have spent the time since then always wanting to learn to paramotor, but always making excuses and prioritising other sports and activities that were easier to participate in first; namely, my love for cycling.
Fast forward to 2020; I was watching a chap flying a Paramotor over my house in Shropshire, immediately reigniting the thought of wanting to learn to fly a Paramotor.
I contacted all of the local Schools that I could find on the website of the British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association, some of which replied only to offer ’experiences’, no training. It was suggested to me that I emailed Simon at www.paramotortraining.com, who pretty much immediately telephoned me. It was a short phone call, with the uncategorical pledge from Simon “we will make this work…”. After weeks of monitoring the weather, and, as soon as it looked favourable, we arranged a date for me to visit the training venue and “…..have a look…”..
First thing to note; in a sport that is very upper limb orientated, it is not often that a lower limb may be involved in more than just a foot launch. For me, that is not an option. I am infact paralysed from the nipples down, so, the most obvious need is to use is a Trike….. but of course, that still utilises the legs for steering. Again, not an option for me. So, no sooner had he set the trike and paramotor up, Simon was already adapting the Trike to lock the steering with luggage straps, also tying my feet into position so that they wouldn’t go anywhere! Within ten minutes, I was whizzing across the field in my own para-dragster! So, we started a new sport; ground borne trike and whopping great motor and propeller on my back – what could possibly go wrong?!
Ground handling training using a para-wing, or ‘Kiting’, proved the first real challenge. As this requires the ability to move around below the wing, to stabilise and centralise it, not something that I could do, so, we moved rapidly on. Simon and a good friend (that also came to help) Sean, tried pushing the Trike with me attempting to do blind forward launches of the wing, with Simon instructing me on what to do; “…pull the A’s”, “…release”, “…left brake…”…. Now is probably a good time to point out that I also had a particularly nasty injury to my right shoulder, meaning that I do not have symmetrical strength across my upper body. So, trying to launch the wing without being able to see and being weaker through my right arm did prove somewhat…. ‘tricky’!
However, due to a combination of; the steering being locked, Simon setting the wing on the ground in a perfect orientation, and, waiting for the wind to be perfect, the wing would come up pretty effortlessly! End of day one.
Day two started with; practice, practice – getting the kit laid out perfectly and the wing up consistently. The wind was not great for learning unfortunately, meaning we managed a good number of practice take-offs with me being pushed, and pushed and….pushed. Generally, we kept going until those pushing me got well and truly tired. A very frustrating point for me was the total inability of my looking behind or above to see what the wing was doing.
Then, we decided to add power! Now we were cooking on gas! This was a milestone moment.
So, motor started and ticking away….and…. thumbs up from Simon wing up, small amount of throttle and……tipped over onto my side – Capsize training!! Exhilarating not the less, most importantly, no risk to my health and physiology at all thanks to the diameter of the cage surrounding the motor and propeller. In fact, I was just sitting upside down happily as my feet were still securely tied to the steering pegs!
Try again……. this time the wing came up and……. tipped to one side. Now I was learning the need to kill the engine before the expensive wing and its control lines tangled up in the propeller. Finally, wing up, everything centred and……. would have been perfect, but not facing in the best direction for a long taxi, so, wheels not off the ground. We decided this was enough for the day. There is all the time in the world, so no need to take unnecessary risks. Rightly so.
Frustrating; I’ve always wanted to excel at the things I try……. and Paramotoring was very much in the centre of my target on this occasion. End of day two.
Day three. No wind……..no visibility. Could not believe it. “Pea soup” so Simon called it. Terrible. I thought the day was lost.
But, it cleared. And, when it did, it left perfect conditions.
Kit out, needed to be careful as the ground was damp. This meant minimum launches.
Me, strapped into the paratrike, ready and watching for Simons signals when, suddenly he switched the radio on in my helmet. Now, hand and voice signals ready, “go throttle”, “Left A”…”right a little” and the wing was beautifully central. “More Throttle” and suddenly I was off the ground. I stupidly backed off the throttle a little as I heard “Gun It…” so I did! I was not only doing my first ‘Hop’, but I was up in the air! I was flying! Over the radio Simon was giving me instructions, to fly directly along the grass runway, keeping straight and just to enjoy it! That I most certainly did!
I still cannot find the words to illustrate to a reader my feelings during that flight. Incredible, for a moment I completely forgot my disability, in the air, there was no disability! I was flying in exactly the same way as all the others in the training school. I was a pilot for those few minutes of cruising down the grass runway. I also had the voice in my head saying that, “I’m a little crazy, but I’m not stupid…”, I followed my teachers’ instructions and didn’t turn, did not try to be over ambitious, so decreased the throttle and brought the Paratrike back to Terra Firma. Craziness, just craziness! I was so happy I managed to fly, in just those three days. I cannot imagine that is the norm, but, that is the power of good teaching an willingness to give something a go!!
To sum up this experience, Simon is an example of the type of person that does not see a problem, he sees a challenge. Thanks to his open-mindedness, he managed to get me up in the air when other schools that id contacted just said no, or just offered me tandem flights only.
Thank you, Simon and your ‘Paramotor Training School’. In a world that tries to remind me that I’m disabled and constantly says “no..”, you helped me to realise that with a little open-minded support I can and will!
I cannot wait for the next lesson!!!!
Tin it’s been a real pleasure so far teaching you mate! You have actually made it easy for us 🙂
That’s such an amazing story, fair play Tim. That takes a lot of courage, so much more for you than most, but isn’t it worth it?! Are you going to do the Icarus Cup next year??
Simon Westmore, making more dreams come true.
No goal posts too far with help and perseverance! A truly moving read.
This is and should become even more amazing as your experience grows. Challenges are a way of life. My husband talked me into a trike because of injuries limiting my capabilities. I am so glad I can fly and I look forward to new challenges. If some thinks I can not do something, I will research it and find away to accomplish it. Maybe someday we will see you in the sky .