By Kris Lapinski, 2017-02-10
I started flying long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. It was in Poland in 1980. Before my 16 birthday I had my mandatory 3 parachute jumps and my first solo flight in 2 seats polish glider-Bocian. I continued my training and earned my silver badge but situation in my local club after government established military law in Poland to squash democratic movement, forced me to quit flying. In that time in my country training was free because flying clubs were financed by the military. Trainee was accepted only after rigoristic medical exams. As a young man I dreamed to be a fighter pilot but as a older, 19 years old I realized that I do not want to serve in a military which may be used against a democratic movement. Joining a military was a very unpopular among young people then.
I returned to flying in USA in 1995. I earned my single engine private license year later and instrument rating year after. In 1999 during my commercial, CFI and CFII (flight instructor and flight instructor-instrument) training I went to ski in NY state and I had accident and sustained spinal cord injury. Being paralyzed from the waist down I was driving and working already 2 months after my discharge from the hospital. Returning quickly to my daily duties helped me a lot in that most difficult time of my life, however I was a sure that my passion for aviation is over and that, I never return to be a pilot and all my training and ratings were wasted.
2 years later I received a brochure from Mont Sinai hospital with the story about Freedoms Wings International. I live in NY and I was very happy that FWI is close in PA. I decided to give them a call and scheduled my first introductory flight with Chris Bigalke. Soon after I started my training and continued throughout next 2 seasons a on weekly or biweekly basis. Thanks to commitment, time and devotion of my instructor-Gill Frost I earned my glider license. Before I earned my glider rating and encouraged by my progress I traveled to Los Angeles where 2 wheelchair pilots established a power plane training for people with disability-International Wheelchair Aviation. I wanted to see if I can fly power planes with a hand controls. Soon after and back in NY I purchased Piper Archer- 4 seats, single engine airplane, installed a hand control and continued my training. 6 years after my injury I recovered all my pilot ratings and even added one more-glider pilot rating.
I must say that joining Freedoms Wings International was the mile stone for me. It really changed my life. I understood that the fact that I am disabled person is not obstacle to pursuit my dreams. It takes maybe more time and energy but with proper planning, devotion almost any goal can be achieved.
I continued my training. I learned very exciting ridge flying with my instructors-Bruce Brown and Bob Cook. I participated in almost every FWI event, giving introductory flights to dozens of disable and able persons. With Bruce Brown I still hold (2016) NJ state altitude record in multi place glider category and with Bob Cook NJ state distans record in the same category.
Encouraged by Bruce Brown I participate in FAA Wings program which brings flying and knowledge skills to a higher level. I recommend this program to every pilot. It really makes flying safer.