Aerobility’s new Frontier
2018 sees Aerobility reach its 25th anniversary, a period for which it has been at the forefront of disabled flying in the UK. Over this time we have built up an expertise in the training of pilots with disabilities through our own flight training operations. We provide unlimited access to aircraft using hoists, and can our equip aircraft with hand controls for use by persons unable to use their legs. In short, we are the UK centre of excellence when it comes to all matters related to disabled flying. All of this has been achieved with a user led organisation; many of our key personnel and volunteers have impairments. Inclusivity is the cornerstone of what we do. We try (and usually succeed) to make all aspects of our operation available to everyone.
In all these years we have successfully managed a small fleet of aircraft, ensuring that the maintenance and care of our fleet is carried out as and when required to the highest standards. However, regulations dictate that much of this work must be carried out by an approved maintenance organisation. But what if we could do this work ourselves?
What if we were able to maintain our own aircraft? In fact, What if we could build our own aircraft, from scratch? What opportunities would this present for our organisation? What would it mean for our members?
So we took the leap…. We embraced the idea of building our own Aeroplane with the true belief that it must enhance our involvement with aircraft, engineering and aviation understanding. It would provide the opportunity to learn, to develop new practical skills and ultimately provide a new, economical airplane that could be used daily for years to come.
During the last few months we have extensively researched the kit aeroplane market, spoken to many manufacturers and sought the advice of previous builders and the LAA. Based on this research and our own extensive experience of working with disabled people, we have chosen to build a Zenair CH750 STOL. The CH750 is of metal construction, chosen over a fabric skin as it will provide much more durability, especially given the methods employed by some of our disabled flyers to enter and exit the aircraft! We already have a very supportive relationship with the UK distributor Metal Seagulls and the potential for adding adaptive controls is large. The process of designing and certifying changes to the original design is so much easier with permit aircraft. This will enable us to fit the aircraft with multiple modifications so ensuring that its controls are accessible and useable by people of all ability, regardless of impairment.
Setting the Ball Rolling
As 2017 comes to a close, the workshop begins to take shape and the reality that it will soon be filled with Aeroplane parts takes hold. Our Ex-British Airways engineer, John Hirst has worked exceptionally hard to transform our simple aircraft hangar into a functioning workshop, suitable to house the build. He has constructed two large workbenches, adjustable in size and height, specifically to accommodate wheelchair users. There are pillar drilling stations, mounted on low height benches along with whiteboards and a PC with Flat screen monitor that can be used to show build plans and websites that will assist with the project. We have moved in secure lockers, tool storage and LED floodlighting but most importantly, a radio and a kettle!
Building the Dream Team
The next stage was to get people involved. A successful first meeting in December brought together 32 volunteers, all eager to stuck in to the build. The first real look at the aircraft kit took place on the 18th & 19th December, when we undertook a training package with Jonathan and Patricia from Metal Seagulls. During the two-day course, 18 of our volunteers learnt about aviation fabrication and the practical skills that would be required for the build. After lots of Measuring, Marking, Re-measuring, Re –marking, De-burring, more Re-measuring and Marking, Drilling, Cleco’ing, back Drilling, Cleco’ing, De-burring (again) and finally riveting, we completed the rudder which will eventually be fitted to our aircraft. With training complete the team were gelling and excitement building in anticipation of the full aircraft kit arriving.