WMU News

British man achieves lifelong aviation dream

Aug. 12, 2002

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. -- "Ad astra," meaning "to the stars," was emblazoned on his family home in England, but before coming to Western Michigan University this summer, Peter Kingdon could only dream of what it was like to truly reach that high.

For six weeks this summer, the retired local government official is fulfilling his lifelong goal of being a pilot. Kingdon contracted polio at an early age, leaving him able to walk only a short distance and unable to use the control pedals in the cockpit. Through a special scholarship program called the Royal International Air Tatoo Flying Scholarships for the Disabled, he's flying now--with instruction from WMU's College of Aviation faculty and the assistance of a specially fitted hand controller that gives him access to the rudder controls.

Kingdon and two other prospective pilots with disabilities are at WMU this summer as recipients of the prestigious scholarships, which were established in 1983 in memory of Sir Douglas Bader, famed Royal Air Force flying ace and squadron commander who downed 23 enemy planes during World War II, undeterred by the loss of both legs early in his flying career. More than 170 flight students have been trained through the program that is intended to afford people with disabilities the opportunity to experience a sense of freedom and release from physical restraints.

Kingdon, 59, of Colchester, Essex; Ian Rutland, 41, an environmental officer from Pity Me, Durham; and Declan Breen, 34, a computer engineer from High Peak, Derbyshire; began their flight training July 15. The trio is expected to remain on campus until after a special wing ceremony being planned for them Aug. 22.

Kingdon took to the skies at the controls for the first time on July 16, and in the next two weeks completed seven flights. Besides the FAA-approved hand controller for the rudder, several other small adaptations were made to make those flights possible. For example, cushions were added to the pilot's seat to give him a better field of vision, two portable steps give him easier access to the cockpit and an extension was added to a fuel-check device so he can reach the fuel lines to do a preflight check for contaminants.

He says he had dreamed of flying since he was a child and was heavily influenced in his love for aviation by his father, who was a member of the Royal Air Force. His father, in fact, pulled the "ad astra" phrase from a longer RAF motto and made it the Kingdon family motto and the name of their home.

"I've always liked a challenge and I've always liked speed," says Kingdon, who says he will be eager to find a way to continue his flying after he returns to England. He's eager also to encourage others with disabilities to take advantage of any opportunity like the one that brought him to the United States. His advice to those with a dream like his is simply to "go for it."

After half a dozen flights this summer, Kingdon had identified his favorite part of flying. Surprisingly, he says it's the landing.

"The landing's the best part. I don't like the flight being finished, but I love the sensation of landing."

While the younger two aviators will return to their jobs in England at the end of the program this month, the retired Kingdon plans to stay in the country for two additional weeks to see as much of the country as he can. He's also planning to take advantage of an invitation by WMU President Elson S. Floyd to attend the University football opener against Indiana State University.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 269 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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