Courageous disabled woman is given the chance to fly high

Claire White SUS-161008-145323001
Claire White SUS-161008-145323001

A woman from Eastbourne who suffers from Multiple Sclerosis has won a scholarship to learn to fly - thanks to a charity set up in memory of the WW2 fighter ace Sir Douglas Bader.

Sir Douglas continued to fly despite losing both his legs.

Claire White, 57, was diagnosed with MS and colon cancer ten years ago.

Her disability meant she was forced to give up work. Her family suffered a tragedy when her husband died and Claire had to put things on hold.

She had been offered a place with the charity Flying Scholarships for Disabled People last year but had to put the scholarship off when her husband died.

Her scholarship to learn to fly is being sponsored by the Red Arrows and Claire met the Red Arrow pilots in the VIP area at Airbourne on Friday afternoon after they took to the skies over Eastbourne to wow crowds at 1pm.

This September she will start her flying course, learning to fly with Bristol Aero Club at Cotswold Airport. Claire was chosen to take part in the course after a selection process for disabled would-be pilots run by Flying Scholarships Disabled People.

She said, “ I was coming back from a holiday in Spain with my husband when a man approached me and asked me if I had ever thought about flying.

“I was taken aback but when I got home I looked him up and it turned out he was connected to the charity.

“My husband was so ill last year and when he died I could not think about doing the flying course.

“Before he passed away he told our children that whatever happens I absolutely must do this course.

“I feel sad I have to make this journey on my own but I know it is what he would have wanted and I want to make him proud and help change perceptions about what disabled people can do.”

Flying Scholarships for Disabled People (FSDP), based at Fairford in Gloucestershire.

It has trained more than 400 people since it was set up in 1983.

Its aim is to give men and women with disabilities the chance to realise their full potential through the mental and physical challenge of learning to fly.

Keith Bayliss, chairman of Flying Scholarships for Disabled People, said, “Learning to fly changes people’s lives.

“Because of their disability, our scholars are often told what they can’t do.

“Well our aim is to change that perception and give them the confidence to show themselves and the world what they can do.

“Disability is no barrier to learning to fly. Once they are in the air the scholars talk about having a new found freedom – something they don’t have on the ground.”

Claire is one of eleven disabled individuals who have been offered a flying scholarship this year.

The scholars have a range of disabilities and illnesses including haemophilia, limb amputation and paraplegia.

Some were born with their conditions, others have them as a result of an accident or disease.

The trainees are sent on three or four week long intensive courses in the in the UK.

The cost of the course, which includes both flying lessons and ground school, accommodation and subsistence is free of charge to the scholars.

Claire was presented with her scholarship certificate by Flying Scholarship for Disabled People Patron HRH Prince Faisal of Jordan and Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford, chief of the air staff at a ceremony at the Royal International Tattoo – the world’s biggest airshow – on July 10.

The charity is looking for more disabled people over the age of 18 to apply for a scholarship.

The charity aims to provides a once in a lifetime challenge for disabled people to help them realise their abilities through the medium of learning to fly.

Whilst not a direct objective of the scheme, most scholars do fly solo by the end of their training programme and some go on to achieve their Private Pilot’s Licence.

If you are interested in sponsoring a scholar contact Julie Bull – General Manager on 0844 578 4578.

To find out more about the charity visit www.fsfdp.org.uk.

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