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Making Learning to Fly More Accessible

  • Synopsis: Published: 2010-09-19 (Revised/Updated 2016-09-23) - Cranfields bid to make learning to fly more accessible to disabled people. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Cranfield University.

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Quote: "I feel pleased that Cranfield may help in giving disabled people the opportunity to obtain their pilots license. It is great to be part of it."

Cranfield University scientists are about to make flying easier and more inclusive, for pilots with limited lower limb disabilities, thanks to a new handheld device for rudder control. Its sole use is to allow full rudder and steering authority on the ground and in the air, removing the need for legs and feet.

Cranfield University is a wholly postgraduate institution with a worldwide reputation for excellence and expertise in aerospace, automotive, defense, engineering, environment and water, health, management and manufacturing. The University is made up of the following Schools: Cranfield Health, School of Management, School of Applied Sciences, School of Engineering, and Cranfield Defense and Security at Shrivenham.

The three year project started when Gautam Lewis, a trainee pilot at Cranfield Flying School, approached the University to help him design an easier control device.

Gautam Lewis, who contracted polio as a child, currently relies on a rudder hand control from Australia that he has to shift up and down to move the plane from side to side.

The novel idea behind Cranfield's design is that it is more intuitive and uses a sideways motion to control the plane from side to side. Its design means it can be fitted to a number of aircraft including Cessna's 172, 152 and the Piper PA28 Warrior and Cherokee.

The project has been run by Course Director Phill Stocking and yearly Aerospace Vehicle Design MSc students.

Gautam said:

"I knew that Cranfield had an aerospace lineage so I asked if they could find a way for me to fly. Their great aviation minds have managed to design a hand control that is easy to use and install. It does exactly what we set out to do. I just want to get the message out there that being disabled is not an obstacle when it comes to flying and Cranfield's great attitude has helped me to do that."

Now a fully qualified pilot, Gautam added:

"I was really passionate about wanting to fly so I just kept plugging away at it and persevered. Having a disability made me more determined to fly. I drive my car with a handheld device so I couldn't see why I couldn't fly a plane with one."

Mr Stocking said:

"I feel pleased that Cranfield may help in giving disabled people the opportunity to obtain their pilots license. It is great to be part of it."

This year's AVD student, Chitresh Bodha, has been refining the prototype design from last year's design. He said:

"Working on this project, I feel I have achieved a lot. The device has been designed using readily available materials. There is no point designing something that is too complex or too costly to make. There has been a lot of paperwork with the certification, maintenance and installation manuals."

Efficiency tests of the rudder have so far only taken place on the ground to test ground maneuverability and skills training.

The device is now at a point where the group can approach the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to gain approval for the design in all 31 member countries. Once approval is gained, it is hoped that the rudder hand control could be rolled out within weeks.

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