DALE BERRY PARAPLEGIC PILOT!
Fresh off the little league field, our coach took us straight to the airport. Montgomery Field in San Diego County was where I first fell in love with flying. I remember several of the other kids declining to fly but I was up front and ready to go when my name was called.
the moment we took off, the feeling of flight and freedom overwhelmed me.
I was hooked. Over the years growing up (as a Navy brat) I found myself
seeking out every opportunity to catch a flight.
Although I was too young to ask Dad if he could get me a ride in one of
those fighter jets, I was always willing to go to the strip while he preformed
his wizardry of GCA (ground controlled approach). Watching the jets, helicopters and anything else that flew
in, enticed me even further.
year it was with great anticipation that I awaited the infamous air show.
At Point Mugu on the California coast brought one of my favorite flying
experiences. It was a ride in the
Goodyear Blimp. Although I barely
had enough to catch a ride ($1.00) I was determined to be one of the few who got
to ride in the airship. It was fantastic! The
view from above, of all that I knew from the ground seemed surreal.
Helicopters, Ultra lights, small planes, big planes, I didnít care.
Just get me up there. I
engrossed myself into every opportunity to fly.
Although I didnít get involved with the world of aviation beyond my
occasional visits to airports, I didnít lose my need to be up there.
I was 19 years old (in 1977) I was the victim of an unfortunate motorcycle
accident, which left me a paraplegic. As
with many disabilities, certain senses increase to compensate for lost senses.
One of those senses for me was the desire to feel that freedom of flying.
Anything that frees you from a confinement is gladly accepted.
apprenticed as a locksmith in the early 1980ís and started my own company in
the early 1990ís. It wasnít
until I was 49 when the opportunity to fly presented itself.
2005 I found myself able to afford the dream.
I applied for my Medical certificate only to find that it is a difficult
undertaking to get the FAA to approve folks with disabilities to fly.
Of course, hindsight affords me the ability to suggest much easier ways
to approach the FAA for medical clearance.
After 18 months of Doctors visits and neurological tests (and
waitingÖand waiting), I was finally approved.
That is a whole different story that I would be happy to share with
anyone preparing for FAA requirements for the disabled.
my clearance from the FAA, I went to a couple different airports and spoke with
a few disabled pilots. Mike Smith
in Big Bear, California was one of the best at helping me to believe that I
could actually fly on my own. His
fleet of airplanes is impressive and his advice was greatly appreciated.
was now time to find an airplane. After
exhaustive searches on the Internet and weeks of simply learning the jargon, I
found myself bewildered with the vast amount of information to learn about
buying an airplane. It was scary to
say the least. Undaunted, I
continued my search for weeks. Once
I was blindly confident with my knowledge of airplane purchasing, I started with
the southwest US. Dozens of planes,
dozens of opinions, I was again faced with decisions I was not qualified to
live in Murrieta, California (about 50 NM north of San Diego).
We have a nice little airport, French Valley (F70). It is here that I
found an airplane that looked just right for me.
I had learned that airframe hours, engine hours, avionics and all the
other concerns, was enough to make any rookie gasp at the thought of buying a
it was in my own backyard, I thought it would be a good experience to go through
the motions of buying, even if I didnít make the purchase.
What I found was a little gold mine.
Itís a 1980 Piper Archer 2. Interior
was in fair condition but the engine and prop had a mere 250 hours since
rebuild. The price was within my range and I found myself buying it
within a couple weeks. ďAre you
nuts?Ē. Friends and family asked
me more than once. Buying an
airplane prior to learning to fly is, I guess, different?
trick was that as a paraplegic, I needed hand controls for the rudder functions.
I had already researched the options and found a Kyle hand control.
Cost at about $1050.00, I ordered it and waited.
The Kyle Hand Control is a lever device that clamps to the left rudder
peddle on the right side of the cockpit. It
does eliminate the ability to use the brakes from the right seat but my CFI, Ed
Matthews, adapted very well. It
comes over between the seats and rest just over the manual trim adjustment
wheel. Simple to use, pull up to
yaw right and push down to yaw left.
arrived at Aircrafters for the installation and I was waiting again.
They had it installed in a couple days but the closer I got to flying,
the slower it seemed to go. Let me
tell about waiting for a dream that is so close you can smell it.
It is agonizing but at the same time, exhilarating.
installed, the hand controls worked out great.
A bit of practice and it became second nature to me.
As with most disabilities, adjusting to what needs to be done to become
proficient is nothing more than new procedures.
Being in a wheelchair is similar to learning to fly in the respect that
it is practicing procedures. Anything
new and challenging is what I seek. Plotting,
communications and weather planning are procedural learning as is the mechanics
and functions of the airplane. Flying
was a natural transition.
to fly in my own airplane had many benefits.
Since renting an airplane for lessons would require an approved
FAA mechanic to install and remove the hand controls after every flight,
the cost was through the roof. My
plan was to own my own plane eventually so why not buy it first. A leap of faith
again. Being trained in the
airplane that you will be flying for years also is a great benefit.
It worked out perfect. Saving
the cost of airplane rentals more than covered the cost of the controls.
brother-in-law Mike Pope is also learning to fly. We are doing it on the buddy system. He is my mentor and gave me the opportunity to learn
locksmithing in the early 1980ís. It
was my chance to pay him back for his willingness to teach me a trade.
The problem was that as I was waiting for the hand controls to be
manufactured and installed, Mike was at the Hemet Flight Center already flying
in their Piper Warrior. He was getting ahead of me as I waited. Again, agonizing.
a little less than one year I have completed my training and reached my ultimate
goal, freedom from the bonds that tie me. Flying is the absolute feeling of freedom that I can
imagineÖÖ..except maybe space flight? Who
knows whatís next.
must have dreams before they can come true.
Being disabled and learning to fly is achievable and very much worth the
effort. If you want to learn to fly
but feel a disability may stop you, donít give up.
I say go for it and grab all the life you can.
you in the smooth blue,