Glider licence for Swiss man with paraplegia

After being certified as unfit to fly, Martin Cotting gave up his dream of training to become a pilot. Many years later he discovered gliding and could begin to hope again. The result was a sensation: After successfully completing flight training in "Aérodrome de la Gruyère" in July 2006, Martin Cotting became the first person with paraplegia in Switzerland to receive a glider licence.

Martin Cotting was fascinated from a very young age by flying. From then on it was clear for him, that he wanted to become a pilot. After an accident in 1988 which left him paralyzed from the waist down, Martin's dream of becoming a pilot drifted away. The Department of Aviation decided at the time that his paralysis was too severe to enable him to have enough stability in the cockpit to fly an airplane.

Martin Cotting sitting in his wheelchair in front of his glider plane (Picture: Martin Cotting)
Martin Cotting with specially adapted glider (Picture: Martin Cotting)

New hope

This all changed in early 2005, when a pilot friend, invited Martin to join him for a flight which coincidently landed in Greyerz. Martin noticed glider planes at the end of the runway. He found out that the special cockpit design in combination with the safety belt system, could give him the stability he needed and so he made a test flight. The elation of the first flight was however followed by some sobering news, as he inquired about the possibility of training to obtain a licence. There were already some people with paraplegia in Europe who had a licence to fly gliders. In Switzerland however it was not possible.

The beginning of project "Handiflight"

Martin Cotting did not give up easy. And after several trips to the national department for civil aviation and a doctor's examination he was finally given the all clear to begin training as a glider pilot. What followed was not only for the flight school students, but also for the pilots from the glider club Greyerz unexplored territory. The first task was to adapt a glider to disabled access status. Part of this process included replacing the foot steering pedals with a lever on the left-hand side of the cockpit. A special click system to block the air brakes was also installed in several positions.

A complete success for all

A few practice rounds were needed before he was fully comfortable with this new system, but after some minor teething problems Martin had the glider in full control. The result is now official: Thanks to the support of the team of pilots at the Greyerz glider club, Martin Cotting was in July 2006, the first person with paraplegia in Switzerland to obtain a licence to fly a glider.

As a result of the success and the experience gather along the way, the engaged pilots at the glider club in Greyerz decided with solid will to continue with project "Handiflight". The glider flight training for people with spinal cord injuries will be integrated into the normal training program of the flight school in the near future.

Author: Cornelia Barthel - MyH