After spinal cord injury many feel compelled to fly. Gliding is one of the easiest ways for disabled folks to experience flght . On this quadriplegic gliding adventure, my friends lifted me from wheelchair to front seat of glider, ready to fly like a bird. We strapped my legs together, and after a flight brief, to the sky and beyond we went. Turbulence rocking the glider behind a powerful P75 tow plane skyward to a height of 3000 feet.

Me lifted into in the glider
Graham lifted into in the glider

The pilot behind me happened to be my sisters family doctor, handy if we crash I thought. With a loud bang, the kind nobody wants to hear in any type of aircraft, the towline was released from the nose of our glider. I had to ask if we were moving. For a few seconds we actually seem to be hanging in mid air. It felt like we were about to drop right out of the sky. The eerie silence was replaced by bustle as the glider sliced through the air building speed. Increasing pressure rushing over the clear perspex canopy.

With a 360 degree view of the landscape (if you don’t have quadriplegia with titanium metal plates and screws holding your neck together) we were gliding along peacefully admiring the scenery when we found a thermal updraft — a column of hot air rising from the ground — that occour over rocky ground or dry burnt out patches of ground. It’s amazing how much lift these thermals can generate.

My friend Bill ready to go gliding
Bill loaded ready to go gliding

At 2000 feet we spiraled upward returning to 3000 feet in a matter of minutes. “Now we can have some fun.” He says. “You know these things can do loop the loops, barrel rolls, and shandels?” I just had to ask…”What’s a shandel?” Tipping the nose cone downward we dove reaching 45 knots, air turbulence now rushing so fast over the canopy it was hard to hear the pilot. Pulling back hard on the stick we flew skyward again and just before stalling Doc spun he glider on tip of one wing repeating the maneuver several times over. “Okay, forget the barrel rolls,” I murmured.

Bill a quadriplegic ready to fly
Bill in the glider.. at the controls!

Aerobatics can displace flaccid limbs. As the operators ask be sure to secure any personal items, cameras, jewellery, not forgetting your legs and urinary drainage devices, any special devices your disability requires. Most adventurous wheelchair users carry a roll of tape, velcro or some sort of strapping when heading out for a big weekend. I also suggest emptying any urinary collection devices prior to boarding. 

If we go gliding again I’ll book flights for our carers. Serene or thrill-seeking it’s your call on this wheelchair gliding adventure. A really cool way for people with a spinal cord injury to leave their worries behind. Experience what it’s like to fly like an eagle soaring across the sky. Give your local gliding club a call. Get out there and spread your wings wheelchair thrillseekers.

Where: The Caboolture Glider Club, Caboolture Aerodrome, QLD. Australia.
Cost: $65 from 2000 ft 10 min, $95 from 3000 ft 20 min, $115 over 3000 ft 30-40 min.
Rating: 3 star rating Heaps of fun, are weather dependent.

4 thoughts on “Gliding

  1. Hello Mr. Streets, I also have flown in a glider, a so so ride i thought. I am a retired Firefighter, over 25 years in that profession. At the present time I am 81 and a paraplegic. At the age of 71 I purchased and assembled a “powered parachute”, a James Bond flying machine. At the age of 72 my flying machine made me a paraplegic on 3-8-01. Sometime in October of the same year my wife came home and found me in the garage with a “rope’ around my neck. To say the least I was really depressed. After several years of anti-depressants I decided to get off from the damm pills, much to my doctors displeasure. Here i am 9+ years later, a vitamin pill and two pain pills a day. I am very healthy despite the fact I cannot walk or have sex.

    I plan on walking again, I have faith. I am far from religious, however I do believe that miracles sometimes happen. My injury is at T10-12. I have been told by more than one doctor that I should “NOT” have any feelings below my injury. I have many feelings, I have been getting more as time goes by. Out of curiosity, if I am correct, you are a quad. How did you sustain your injury and how old are you. One more thing, I have been married to the same lady for 58+ years. Hope to hear from you sometime. Yours truly Al Lincoln Delaware U.S.A.

  2. Hello Al, I’m a 42 year old quadriplegic of 16 yrs after breaking my neck in a motorcycle accident. You can read all about me here. I well know the feelings of depression you describe. Your injury must be complete, do u plan to walk through mechanical means? People ask me, if a cure became available for spinal cord injury, would you take it. Having fully accepted life as a quadriplegic I usually answer no. I’m quite happy with who I am today. Doubt I need tell you life is all about how you percieve it. I don’t need legs to stand tall. One thing I liked about gliding was how you get to chose a serene or thrilling flight. I’ve been considering a tandem paraglider (powered parachute) as one of our future thrill-seeking adventures. Married of 58 years is impressive, I’ve never been married. Also on a side note; it just so happens my bro-in-law starts in the firefighters service this week.

  3. I went gliding at the Morawa Gliding Club in WA’s Wheatbelt region. It was the best! Would definitely recommend it, although it would be a good idea to get in touch with them about any special needs (hoists etc). I’m an L3 para which made things easier than they might otherwise have been.

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