2018-10-23 Posted By Jenna Reed-Cote featuring Mike Lomberg
Recently an amazing adventure was brought to my attention. Mike Lomberg and Guillaume Féral of HandiFlight are working hard to put all the pieces together to be the first paraplegic pilots to fly solo in a single-seat airplane outfitted with hand controls next month. They will be flying a total of 80,000km, visiting 40 countries and 6 continents. When they do touch down at each stop, they will be supporting an organization, called Humanity & inclusion, to support communities and try to raise awareness about accessibility, inclusion and what is possible. I can't wait for them to take off and I'm so excited to hopefully meet them when they touch down in Vancouver next year.
Before you get to see what he and I talked about before his trip in the interview below, I highly recommend you watch this short video and get excited to hear more of what Mike told me!
P.A. (Phoenix Attitude): What do you love about flying and how long have you been doing it?
M.L. (Mike Lomberg): I started flying when I was 19 when I was selected for pilot training in the South African Air Force, so really just 9 months after I completed my high schooling. Initially I think it was the exhilaration and the challenge of it all, but soon as one learns and is exposed to different aeroplanes, different missions, different places I just fell in love more and more with aviation. I think quite soon I discovered that this really was the passion of my heart and what I felt I was born to do. I am at my happiest and most at home in the world when I am in the cockpit.
P.A.: After your car accident, did you have the same passion for flying immediately after your did it take time? Did you struggle with your identity as a pilot after your accident, having to learn to fly differently form your colleagues?
M.L.: The passion never dies! For me, the thought of suddenly changing direction and doing something completely different was never an option…it would have been second best. Fortunately, the area of aviation I was involved in at the time of my accident had many opportunities that kept me close to the aeroplanes and the work that I had been doing up to that point.
No, the fact that I fly with a hand control for rudder operation quickly became totally irrelevant. I drive with hand controls, I fly with hand controls, it’s just how I do things. It was an interesting and challenging transition, and because of my background in flight testing, I just saw it in that light. Small adaptations can open the possibilities of what one can do, and the focus should never be on the adaptation, but on the capability that it provides.
P.A.: When I think of incredible adventures like this one, I’m reminded of Rick Hansen’s Man in Motion Tour and Terry Fox’s journey across Canada. I see you becoming a part of history with them - what does this trip of a lifetime mean to you? What do you hope to accomplish both personal and for your fellow human beings?
M.L.:I don’t think any of the Handiflight Team see what we are doing in the same league as the achievements of Rick Hansen and Terry Fox. They are true inspirations to millions of people not only in Canada, but around the world.
Of course it is a significant personal challenge purely at the flying level, and an amazing opportunity for both Guillaume and I. For me though, it is a unique way of using the many opportunities that aviation has given me, both as an able body pilot and now as an adaptive flyer, to use aviation to communicate a larger message : that when we break down the barriers in our own minds, and then in the minds of others, things that were seemingly impossible, become possible. Sometimes all it takes is a changed way of looking at things, or a small adaptation, or an aid, and suddenly the potential and passion of an individual, seemingly severely limited by one or other disability, can be given wings and fly. This is also at the core of the work that Handicap International (also known as Humanity & Inclusion) does in more than 60 countries around the world. We are excited to be supporting them on this journey.
P.A.: Rick Hansen and Terry Fox initially faced people who doubted their ability embark on their journeys of hope and raising awareness; have you faced doubters and how have you summoned the confidence to remain steadfast?
M.L.: I am sure that Daniel Ramseier, the co-founder and President of Handiflight, the organisation behind this project faced this. It is a huge and complicated undertaking, and many would have told him it would not be possible. But he has seen, through his being part of the Solar Impulse team, that one has to believe in a project, and gather people around one that also believe in it. Personally, I have encountered only support: from members of my home flying club here in Cape Town, from friends and ex-colleagues from my days in the SAAF and aviation industry, from other “earth rounders” as they are known, and from the new friends I have made since becoming involved in this project.
P.A.: What do you hope to accomplish on this adventure for yourself; your family and friends; the people - young and old/healthy or struggling with health challenges?
M.L.: I think if I am able to inspire and challenge people, whether they may be disabled or struggling with health or age related issues or not, just to see some of these things differently, to look and find pathways to inclusion, and to open up the space for themselves or for others to follow their own dreams and to imagine a fuller life for themselves and those around them, then I will have fulfilled much of what I want to on this journey.
P.A.: You are stopping in over 40 countries on your 80,000km trip of a lifetime, are you going to be taking time to relax at each stop or does your work to raise awareness continue?
M.L.: Of course the flying is important and has a special place in this project. But it is really about the people and the message that we want to communicate. The aeroplanes and the flying are just our way of practically demonstrating the message. Our route and schedule is planned so that we can spend good amounts of time at every stop engaging with people, not only pilots. That said, there are physiological challenges as well, and we need to ensure we have enough rest time in between legs and look after ourselves. So there is a balance somewhere and we will have to find that rhythm as we progress.
P.A.: At the end of the Man In Motion tour, written across the finish line was “The end is only the beginning!” What message do you want your supporters and the rest of the world to remember about what this adventure means for us going forward?
M.L.: It starts with a dream.
P.A.: Do you have any advice for people who have health challenges, or even survived a injury like yours about following their “impossible dreams”?
M.L.: I don’t think I am in any position to give anyone great advice! Our journeys are all different, and they are personal and unique. But I would encourage everyone to find dreams in the context of their own lives and passions, and to find the pathways to inclusion that will allow them to make progress towards achieving them. Very quickly, as one begins moving forward, one finds others who will support, encourage and nurture them, and slowly the horizons begin to expand and the barriers start to fall. This is the journey!
P.A.: Finally, what would you tell yourself in the earliest aftermath of your accident about how your life was going to turn out?
M.L.: Whatever you do, don’t look back.
P.A.: Which stop are you looking most forward to?
M.L.: A very difficult question. But I am interested in many things, very diverse interests, and so I am determined to seek out great people, great places, great coffee and great experiences everywhere we go. I am at heart a pilot, so it’s not always about the destination, it’s the secret views one has of the world in getting there!