FOR quadriplegic Dave Jacka, flying gives him a rare feeling of freedom.
“I’m not restricted in the air like I am on the ground,” Mr Jacka said.
“I feel as though I can do what I want and go anywhere.”
Mr Jacka, 37, is the world’s first quadriplegic to fly a powered hang glider, known as a microlight.
Paralysed from the waist down after a motorbike accident when he was 19, Mr Jacka was close to giving up his lifelong dream to fly.
“I always loved the idea of flying when I was a kid, but after the accident I just didn’t think it was something I’d ever be able to do.”
With help from instructors at the Eagle School of Microlighting at Bright, Mr Jacka’s dreams have become a reality.
“I still can’t quite believe that I’m flying now, it hasn’t really sunk in,” Mr Jacka said.
After seeing a microlighting display at an air show last year, Mr Jacka began to consider the challenge of taking up flying.
“It just automatically grabbed my interest because it looked like fun,” he said.
“A friend then gave me a brochure to the flying school and I just couldn’t wait to get into it.”
Instructor Stephen Ruffels said he was amazed at Mr Jacka’s natural flying talent.
“At first I thought it wasn’t going to work but he had a really good feel for it,” Mr Ruffels said.
“He took to it like you wouldn’t believe”.
After his first flight last April, Mr Jacka set about making adjustments to a second-hand microlight that he would be able to control, despite having limited body movements.
“I knew I had to put in a lot of hard work, but I wasn’t going to give up until I’d exhausted all my options,” he said.
A qualified engineer, Mr Jacka drew the designs for his modified aircraft and approached a Melbourne company to make adjustments.
With no finger movements and the ability to use only his biceps for steering, Mr Jacka added an extended control bar, which he could push his weight against to steer the aircraft.
Mr Ruffels has received inquiries from as far away as the US about Mr Jacka’s aircraft, in which he took his first solo flight on Valentine’s Day.
“Dave’s story is a true inspiration and will go a long way in helping others in similar situations,” Mr Ruffels said.
“He has proven that if you’ve got the desire, you can achieve anything.”