Belfast Telegraph

Crippling disease doesn't stop Michael Holden reaching for the skies

By Rebecca Black

Meet our most unstoppable and high-flying character.

Downpatrick man Michael Holden (42) was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2010, a condition that attacks the nervous system and has left him in a wheelchair, but it has not stopped him following his dream of soaring into the skies.

The married father-of-two told the Belfast Telegraph how he had had a few flying lessons before he became disabled, but with running an engineering business did not get around to qualifying.

He went to the doctor with a twinge in his leg and was shocked months later to be diagnosed with motor neurone disease, having no family history of the condition.

"It has completely changed my life, you view things very differently from a wheelchair, but it created an opportunity to do something very different," he said.

With this positive attitude, Michael managed to qualify as a pilot despite his disability, and his inspirational story led him to being selected from hundreds of applicants to be honoured with a flying scholarship by a charity headed by the Crown Prince of Jordan.

Michael conducted his flying training at Aerobility, a specialist flying school for disabled people, situated at Blackbushe Airport in Hampshire.

He flew successfully, attained his solo pilot skills, and took his first solo flight on September 5 last year in a Piper Alpha 28 aircraft.

Michael paid tribute to his social worker for directing him to charities to help him realise his dream.

"It was completely amazing, we had been doing take-offs and landings, then my instructor turned to me and said you are ready to do this on your own," he said.

"My mouth went dry, I wasn't expecting it, I thought he was joking at first.

"He shook my hand, hopped out of the airplane, and told me which flight path to follow," he said.

Michael has now set up www.trip-ability.com, a travel review site for disabled people, which also provides employment for the disabled.

He is set to travel to England this week to be presented with his pilot's wings.

He and his family will be guests of honour at the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford on the July 13, where he will be presented with his wings officially by Prince Faisal of Jordan and Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton.

From September 7, his specially-adapted plane will be brought to Newtownards airfield so local disabled people can have the opportunity to fly.

It is believed Michael will be the first disabled pilot to land an aircraft in Northern Ireland, if not on the entire island. The initiative is backed by Ulster Rugby star Tommy Bowe – himself a trainee pilot.

The Aerobility charity needs £4,000 to help realise the project.

Anyone interested in applying for further details needs to contact Michael at mail@trip-ability.com or ring the office on 028 9751 2650.

Belfast Telegraph

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