Have you ever wondered what that fan thing is for on the front of small aircraft, and some larger ones? Surely nothing that size can have anything to do with keeping the aircraft in the air. Well I can tell you what it is really for. It is to keep the pilot cool. I know because when it stops turning you really do start to sweat!!
I was born and brought up in a house Airport. Planes have always held a fascination for me. As they passed over head, where were they going? How did all that metal stay up in the air? If I threw a metal can up in the air it always obeyed Isaac Newton and fell to earth. When I was asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My answer would always be, “An airline pilot” Looking back it may have been that if I had worked harder at school I may another profession, got married and raised
a family. Never the spare money now to I would never get to be a pilot. I made the promise that if I was going to do it at all I
would have to do it before I was 60.
In November 2005, with less than two years to the big six 0, I went to Florida and did a residential course, at the end of which I went back to Florida a year later and did of take offs and landing at a variety of airports, including some night flying. I then felt confident enough to go and get my own plane and continue my flying here in Ireland.
In 2007 I bought a small 2 seater called a 582, two stroke engine and a nice big three bladed fan to keep me cool in the hot Irish summer. I went over to Scotland for a few days and had a few hours training with the seller. I brought it back to Ireland on a trailer and hangered it at our local club. Although to all eyes it is a microlight it was actually necessary to retain my licence very cheaply.
On 4th June 2007 we had a “fly-in” at our club and I spent the afternoon on “meet and greet”, dishing out coffees and buns to Ireland. Midway through the afternoon
someone asked me to bring the plane down from the hanger as it was the only one in Ireland and most had never seen one. I left it in front of the clubhouse, with no real leaving I decided to do a few circuits, just for the practice.
When I got to about 800 ft the view was amazing. It was a really clear day and I away, and take a few photos. I knew that I had one full tank (5 gals) and about a gallon in the second tank. That was more than enough to get me home and back a couple 1000 ft the engine cut out. I knew that I had selected the full tank so gave it a couple of tries, without success before changing to the second tank. Another couple of tries at restarting and I was getting dangerously close to the ground. The buildings were definitely getting larger in the windscreen and I have to find somewhere to land. I didn’t want a field full of cattle, sheep would be preferable as they had all that fleece to cushion any blow. A nice clear field would green crop so I aimed for that. I went into forced landing mode and tried to remember everything my instructor had told me. Everything secured, fuel and electrics turned off, prayers started. As I came into land I which brings up the nose of the aircraft and creates a cushion of air to ride in on and gently land, and so I landed heavily. I had working so help was quickly on hand. I realised straight away that I could not feel my legs but hoped this was just a temporary thing. I can remember more and more help arriving and eventually being put in an ambulance. The journey to Wexford Hospital seemed to take ages and I can remember arriving there and then nothing else until I woke up in a hospital a few days later. Apparently I was able to tell the doctors and the Garda exactly what had happened but I cannot remember any of that.
Apparently I was transferred to the Mater Hospital in Dublin and had an operation on my spine at about 5 a.m. (12 hours after the accident) I was kept on a life support machine for three days as I had broken every rib, collapsed both lungs and broken three vertebrae, crushing but not snapping my spinal cord. It seems that I had tubes and probes in some very strange places. Some that even my G.P. has never seen. I had rods and screws inserted along my spine (T12, L1 and L2). My wife Carol and my sister were coming to the hospital every day, even though they were sometimes only allowed to see me for a few minutes. They fed me with some pretty powerful drugs and kept me in a coma for a week. Boy if I could bottle those and sell them legally I could make a fortune. I had some of the weirdest dreams and maybe even nightmares. Even now I am not sure which of these visions were real and which were dreams. I do remember seeing “the bright white lights” and being “invited” through. I remember refusing that offer. I wanted to stay where I was. I was then kept in a spinal injuries ward for another two weeks and then transferred to the National Rehabilitation Hospital. I was told straight away that I would never walk again and I was destined for a life in a wheelchair. I Lady’s Ward under the watchful eyes of weeks were spent on bed rest and then my I had been in the horizontal position for so long but I felt safer in my plane than in that thing being driven by Tommy.
I set myself targets and ticked them off when I had achieved them. Putting my socks on for myself, getting out of bed with the aid of a transfer board. Each one was a milestone. Physiotherapy was a nightmare. Ronan was most patient with me but every move seemed to hurt. I had various scans and tests but no one seemed to know why I had so much pain. One of the biggest boxes ticked was when I was able to move my right leg slightly. Perhaps there was hope for the future. Anyway I was kept there until November. I think everyone was glad to be rid of me but I do know that I couldn’t have had better treatment anywhere. O.K., so Sister Anne frightened the life out of me but I will be forever grateful to her for showing me why so many parts of my treatment were important, making sure that I did as I was told if I wanted to make any improvement.
I stayed in N.R.H until November and with Ronan’s perseverance, help and guidance I could stand between the parallel bars for up to 30 minutes and take one step forward, with the aid of splints. Since I came home I have built a gym in a spare bedroom and workout every day. I can walk quite well between the bars and take a few paces with a walking frame. I am determined to prove the doctors wrong. I have been back into hospital a number of times and am currently at home. Unfortunately the plane is damaged beyond economic repair but I am determined to get back in the air. I just need try to keep their log books nice and neat. The numbers in the take off column should match the number in the landings column. Unfortunately mine now seems to have an odd number.
A heartfelt thank you to everyone at the N.R.H. for giving me the help and encouragement to improve. O.K. so my quality of life may not be all that it was before but without your help it would be a darn site worse than it is. Thank you to everyone at Spinal Injuries Ireland for the support and practical help that you give to all of the “spinals”. There are too many to mention individually, including those on the nursing staff. And those in O.T., sports and the Hydro pool. You know who you are. Just think back to the Englishman who would never stop talking!!
Why did the engine on the plane cut out? Well it seems that the changeover valve had been turned through 180 degrees, past a stop collar. When I thought that I had selected the full tank I had actually selected the second tank. Unfortunately there just wasn’t time to switch to the other tank, turn the engine over a few times to draw the fuel through to the carburettor and get the engine restarted before I had to concentrate on the landing. so at the end of the day it went down as pilot error by the Air Accident Investigation It seems that in my efforts to come in on a nice slow landing I had got the aircraft below stall speed so it dropped out of the sky for the last few feet and jolted straight up my spine. Again, pilot error, but I know that I am very lucky to be alive.
I am getting used to the wheelchair and we have had a lift installed so I can get to most of the house. It is no good feeling sorry for myself and I don’t ask anyone to feel sorry for me. I have just got to get on with life. Every journey starts with a single step. Some of our journeys in the future may be a little shorter than we had planned.
The biggest “thank you” must go to my wife Carol who has been an absolute tower of strength for me. All the plans that we had made, all the travelling we were going to do have all gone out of the window, yet I have never heard her complain. She probably does it behind my back !! Thank you love.