Brian Wilson may not be able to walk on his own two legs but he can fly as good as anyone. Gliding across the clear blue sky in his compact Aeropract, his heart soars as high as the digits on the altimeter.
The Canberra man always dreamt of flying his own plane but a crippling disease in his toddler years held him back. Diagnosed with polio as an 18-month old, the disease affected his legs, hampering his dream of manning his own aircraft.
“My passion for flying, planes and aircraft has always been there,” he shared. “When I was in school I was in the Australian Air League and I built model planes. Because of my polio, I had to wear leg irons for a number of years before I used a walking stick and then crutches before taking to the wheelchair.”
It wasn’t until he was in his 60s and wheelchair-bound that he realised he could fulfil his childhood dream despite his disability.
“I went to Temora to watch a big air show and while I was there I saw all these wheelchair people were being presented with certificates for graduating from a Wheelies with Wings scholarship,” he shared.
“I found out that Wheelies with Wings is an Australian charity that offers physically disabled people the opportunity to gain flying experience by flying planes with modified controls that only require the use of your hands.
“As soon as I saw that my eyes lit up and I wanted to know how I could apply and hear more about the scholarship.”
Less than a year later, thanks to two scholarships, he had all the right qualifications to man his own plane. Mr Wilson remembers taking to the air on a solo mission like it was yesterday.
It is the highlight of his life, he confesses.
“One day I was with my instructor doing circuits of landing and taking off again, when he pulled up short on the runway, opened his door, hopped out and told me to give it a go solo,” he said with a broad grin.
“I did three circuits by myself and then he flagged me to come down for a break and a cup of tea. I just wanted to keep going, I was on such a high.”
He has now flown over 20 solo hours in the air and is hoping to inspire wheelchair-bound Canberrans to follow their dreams despite the obstacles they are facing.
“We are aiming to encourage young people who have had an accident and become paraplegics to give it a go,” he shared. “It gave me such a lift in my life and I know it can do the same with others.”