31 July 2018
Did you know that you can run an activity for your fellow Blesma Members? Member Alex Krol shows us how it's done
Member Alex Krol is certain his passion for flying has helped him with his rehabilitation. So, he suggested we let other Members have a go.
“Flying a plane is something everyone wants to do as a kid, isn’t it? We all wanted to be pilots when we were younger.” Says Alex Krol. “I’m spinally injured, so I use a wheelchair all the time, but I can still get into a plane! If I wasn’t in the situation I’m in, I wouldn’t have had the chance to learn to fly. I feel very blessed and fortunate that I can do this!”
Alex, a former Royal Marine who was paralysed when a car pulled in front of his motorbike in 2005, is the epitome of Blesma positivity. “Like most people, I was quite lost for a while after being injured,” he admits, “but I applied for a flying scholarship for disabled people and I was sent to South Africa to learn how to fly. It was fantastic! Now I’m a qualified pilot and I do it as much as I can in my spare time. I’m passionate about it and I wanted to share that.
Alex has spread his love of flying to fellow Blesma Members thanks to a recent appeal by the Association for Members to suggest ideas for new projects. Alex responded with a pitch for a beginners’ aviation day, an idea that was eagerly adopted by the Association.
“It was never going to be an easy pitch, because flying is quite an expensive activity to run, and it would have been the first time the Association had offered flying lessons to its Members. But I think I put across a good case, and the Blesma team were keen; they have invested time, support and money into this, and that’s fantastic!”
Anyone can give it a go
Alex’s try out day was held at John Lennon Airport in conjunction with specialist disability flying charity Aerobility, to give the eight Members taking part a fun and exciting introduction to a fully accessible aircraft as well as giving them the chance to interact with other Members.
“The guys on this course are all single below-knee amputees, but Aerobility can hoist someone like me, who needs a wheelchair, into the plane so anyone can do it, however severe their disability. Aerobility is a great charity that has helped me out a lot with discount flying, so it’s great to see them collaborate with Blesma.” The adaptations to the plane controls are quite simple.
“There are normally pedals to control the rudder, but an adapted plane replaces those with a mechanical device, so you use your hands rather than your feet. All the other dials, controls, and columns are the same. It’s very easy and works well. I love flying because I can jump in a plane and fly it like anyone else would. It gives me a sense of freedom,” says Alex.
"They let you take control and get involved with flying the plane. I'd really like to give it another go"
"I’ve done a few hours of trial flights in the past. I love flying, so I threw my name into the hat and was delighted to be accepted for this. I was still a bit apprehensive before going up – and I was the first to fly! – but Alex and the instructors were spot on. We had a decent flight over Liverpool, Wigan and Skelmersdale, and it was really enjoyable.
I’m an above-knee amputee, but I could operate the foot pedal alright with my prosthetic. Taxiing on the ground was something of a challenge, but a bit of brute force and ignorance got it done!
It was a great atmosphere on the day, everyone got something out of the event. An activity like this puts everyone on an even keel. I think it’s great that Blesma lets Members lead the way with activity ideas; they’re letting Members take the initiative, and that’s important."
A former Royal Marine, Andy was injured in an IED blast in Afghanistan in 2009
"I already know Alex. He’s a great guy and he absolutely loves flying, so I thought I’d see what it’s all about.
I’m from Liverpool, so what I really loved about it was looking at my home city from the air. I’m from Bootle, so we actually flew over that way and went over my house. I was telling people all about it afterwards, it was very cool! We looked at the docks and various other parts of the city. Exploring your home city while flying a plane is great! The instructors were great, and they didn’t bog you down with too much detail – there was just the right amount of information so you knew what you were doing.
Once we were at 1,000ft, they let us take the controls. I’m a below knee amputee, so it worked well because everything was operated by hand controls. The good thing with Aerobility is that they really let you take control and get involved with flying the plane. I didn’t have any expectations before taking off, but I really enjoyed it. I’d really like to give it another go and I’ll definitely be chatting to Alex about that."
Alex's top tips for making your Blesma pitch a soaring success.
Got an activity you would like Blesma to run?
Go with something you love
“I’ve put a lot of time and energy into flying,” says Alex, “it’s a passion, so it’s great to be able to communicate that enthusiasm to other Members. Clearly explain the reasons why you want to put on an event, and how it will benefit Members.”
Think the idea through
“Work on your costs and must-know information to make sure it is all correct. It will save Blesma having to keep coming back to you with questions.”
Work with Blesma
“Blesma makes the whole process of pitching an idea very easy. I filled in a form online but always felt I could ask questions throughout the process. Blesma never said no to my idea, and I felt I had the opportunity to change certain details as we went through the process. Blesma thought it’d be worth it, so be ambitious.
Not a jolly but jolly good fun!
The 45-minute taster flights take the Members up the coast beyond Southport, before banking around and flying back into the city. “It’s not particularly far, you get to see the coast, the estuary, the docks…it’s brilliant,” says Alex.
“It’s not a jolly, either – this is a proper training flight. Everyone who is flying has hands-on experience, and as soon as they take off, the instructors give the controls to the Members and tell them what to do. “One guy told me that he’d had a trial flight a few years ago, but he wasn’t allowed to do anything. Here, they are doing it all – including the radio calls – so they all feel completely involved.”
Alex has since pointed a number of participants in the direction of Aerobility and the scholarship he undertook. He’s not surprised that his idea was a success, given how much being airborne has helped him.
“Flying has been a massive part of my rehab and recovery,” he says. “I served with the Royal Marines, and four years in I was ready to deploy, but unfortunately I had my bike accident. My service career was cut short. I was 22, and I was gutted. I’m still in touch with all my mates from the Marines and meet up with them regularly, but I know I missed out, but then I got the chance to go to South Africa, I flew every day, the weather was great, and I came back with my pilot’s licence, and I’ve kept going as much as I’ve been able to. I see flying as a gift, and so it has given me a real sense of fulfilment to help others try it.”
As is always the case at Blesma events, Alex’s flying day hasn’t just been about the activity itself. The social side has been just as helpful, with Members helping each other in a variety of ways. “You’ve got eight guys who’ve never flown before and they have had the chance to experience something new,” says Alex. “For me, it would have been enough if they’d just had a nice day and never done it again, so it’s been brilliant that they’re keen to take it further.
“But the day has not just been about the flying. We have spent all day together and the lads have been speaking to each other about prosthetics and other Blesma activities that they’ve been on – all the usual things that Members discuss when they get together. People have come here from all over the country too, and I thought that was very supportive. It’s great to have positive feedback, and so we will hopefully push on from here.”
Is there an activity that you would like Blesma to offer Members? You can pitch your idea at www.blesma.org/activitiesproposal and to take a look at the current Activities Programme visit www.blesma.org/activities