Blind Pilot Flying In U.K.
Steve Cunningham, a 41-year-old pilot who lost his sight at the age of 12, is working his way around Great Britain this week in a Piper Warrior to set records and raise funds for charity. He has a safety pilot on board, but is doing all the flying himself, with the help of a talking onboard computer. "The prompts come back every two seconds, and it will tell me things like whether I'm flying level, whether I'm banking to the right, banking to the left, in a descent or in a climb," Cunningham told reporters this week. "You don't fly an aircraft on what you can see, you fly an aircraft on the information that you are getting back from the control panel," he said. He just gets the information by sound rather than visually. (Unfortunately, he doesn't have one of those vibrotactile vests we told you about last year.) Cunningham said he spent three years learning to fly. He already has broken records for the fastest blind man on land and water. In 1999, he drove a Chrysler Dodge Viper over a measured course at 147.55 mph, and in 2000 he set a new world offshore powerboat record with a time of 74.4 mph in a V24 BAT boat, less than one second slower than the record for a fully sighted person in the same class of boat. Cunningham is also captain of the England Blind Football Team and an avid golfer. This week's record flight is raising cash for the Royal National Institute of the Blind and the British Deaf Association. Cunningham said he was also motivated by a desire to show what blind people can achieve.