I learned of it last night on The CBC’s As It Happens: Miles Hilton-Barber, blind since age 30, has flown from Biggen Hill, south of London, to Gosford, outside Sydney, by ultralight in a journey that took almost two months.
Aviation regulations required he take a sighted co-pilot, but in the As It Happens story he explained how his instruments were geared up to give him audio and voice feedback such that he could do most of it on his own.
Still, one gets the idea that the man wouldn’t let a lack of suitable instruments keep him from making the flight or any other adventure. Speaking with Hilton-Barber before his flight, BBC World Service explained:
55-year old Miles Hilton-Barber has already competed in the gruelling Marathon des Sables, has climbed in the Himalayas, hurtled downhill on a bobsleigh, and holds the lap record for a blind man on the Malaysian Formula 1 motor-racing circuit.
In a presentation to the National Federation of the Blind, Hilton-Barber noted that his callsign was to be “Batman” — “because I am blind as a bat” — and related a story from his youth:
I was eighteen, growing up in Rhodesia, what is now called Zimbabwe. I joined the Air Force. I could still see then. I didn’t know I was going to go blind, and neither did they. But they said, “Sir, you will never become a pilot because your eyesight isn’t good enough.” Just the other day I was sitting in my bath back in England, and I suddenly remembered that occasion. I said, “Blow me down. Thirty-five years later, even though I can’t see a thing, I now have the privilege of flying more than halfway around the world.” Don’t tell me you can’t live your dreams!