Sunday, September 4

Onwards, Forwards and Upwards

By Sarah-Jane Hollands

Everything was in place and all we needed now was calm flying weather. The forecast was good, but not brilliant – the wind was keen, even at 8.30am as my sister and I arrived at Northern Aviation, Durham Tees Valley Airport.

There was plenty of activity - BBC Radio Cleveland were interviewing Northern Aviation's Operations Manager, Lee Scott, tables and chairs were being moved, surfaces were being polished in the operations room and the smell of aviation fuel from Cleveland Flying School's trainers as they were being fired up and moved into position on the parking area outside the big hangar (once used to house Lancaster Bombers during the 1940s) was a sign that something significant was about to occur.

Even Peter Troy arrived on time - surely this was to be a memorable day!

There were many last minute tasks. The poster needed putting up in the press briefing room. Did we have enough cups for teas and coffees? More importantly, how many people would turn up? And how were they going to find their way to us? The signs were not all that clear.

We set up operations centre in Lee Scott’s office. He seemed totally unperturbed at being turned out of his own office by two women and I wondered at that point if he was always so calm! Clearly this was a quality very much needed to run an airport!

Fifteen minutes later, we had bashed out some directional posters on Lee’s PC and armed with blue tack and cellotape, we set out to direct the masses!

String and staples may have been more use, but we had to make do with what was to hand.
Now then, I don’t know if readers have ever tried sticking sheets of paper to road signs, with blue tack, while the wind is so strong it is constantly threatening to whip ones skirt (or kilt perhaps) above ones head? No? Well let me tell you: imitating a hang glider – not my idea of a fun day out in the North East!

That job (eventually) completed, we headed back to find the press already starting to arrive.

The men from A19 Spas were setting up their hydrotherapy demonstration pool in the courtyard area, while the generator, the use of which was so kindly donated by Hewsons of darlington, chugged away silently in the background.

The smell of aviation fuel lingered outside, as aircraft manouvered into position on the 'apron' in front of the impressive Cleveland Flying Schools Clubhouse.

The excitement was mounting, an air of expectation about the place. Nothing left to do now but wait for everyone else to arrive (and keep Peter Troy well supplied with caffeine).

Soon, the assorted guests and visitors came streaming in. Yes, they had found the place and yes, there were lots of them; they were arriving by the bus load ! The day was shaping up into something special.

Presentations began at noon, with introductions from Peter Troy, Business development Manager of SouthSide Broadcasting. Speakers included Steve Derwin, Chairman of the British Disabled Flying Association, Alan Wrigley, Cleveland Flying School and David Watson, from Flying Scholarships for the Disabled.

Alex Lewczuk, SouthSide Broadcasting's CEO was very much in evidence, interviewing the exhibitors, pilots and would-be pilots.

At 1.00pm, the fun really started, as we began putting people in aircraft and sending them skywards - 65 people in all took to the skies.

First up was the Reverend Doctor Alan Leighton, Chaplain from Western Europes largest hospital the James Cook University Hospital (JCUH) in Middlesbrough. Peter's comment that the good Reverend could perhaps 'have a word' about the weather, as he was in the loop, was well noted.

Also on the first 'flight of fancy' was Gareth Davison, who despite having sight problems had always dreamt of flying a plane. Today was his lucky day.

When I went to collect him for his flight, he was filling in an application form for a disabled flying course scholarship!

When Gareth's and the Reverand Doctor's flight returned, I met his emotional mother who had brought him along after hearing a live piece from Lee Scott on BBC Radio Cleveland earlier.

"How was that?" I enquired. She grinned, then burst into happy tears and flung her arms around me. "His face says it all", she explained, "thank you so very much!"
I felt quite moved and close to tears myself at that point.
I was starting to realise just what this day meant and how many people we could reach and make aware of the possibility of flying.

That scene was repeated throughout the day. Time after time, disabled and able-bodied people headed in groups, looking apprehensive, towards the four seater trainer, to be pilotted by Tony Batt, then returned beaming and brimming over with excitement. Cleveland Flying School kindly laid on a second plane to cope with the demand!

Two RAF Hercules positioned themselves on the dispersals area outside for refuelling. This led to one of the funniest moments of the day.

As the Hercules crew members stood around their plane, one of our little 4-seater trainers landed close by. The passenger – totally blind- got out from the captain's seat, extended his white cane and with permission from the flying instructor, felt with his hands his way around the plane from which he had disembarked.

Cue much hilarity from the Hercules crew, who could not quite believe what they were seeing!
"How strong is the beer here?" one was heard asking!

We carried on flying until well after 7.00pm. We wanted to make sure that everyone who wanted to fly actually had that chance and we ensured no-one went home disappointed.

To sum up, the day was successful overall. Hard work, but it was a pleasure and a privilege to be involved in something so positive and life affirming.

At the end of it, I felt both humbled and proud, with a real sense of achievement. Would I do it all again? Yes, in a heartbeat.

As the last bus left the car park, I went to find Peter. I caught a glimpse of him, heading purposefully towords dispersals, mumbling "per ardua ad astra!"

Clearly there is only one way to go - onwards, forwards and upwards.

Sarah-Jane Hollands is the Business Development Co-ordinator of SouthSide Broadcasting Ltd.

Photo: Steve Derwin, courtesy of

Website links - Cleveland Flying School -

British Disabled Flying Association -

SouthSide Broadcasting -

1 comment:

Shelagh said...

Wow Sarah-Jane - what a glorious word picture you paint!

I couldn't be there myself - and now I feel I was!