My name is Paul and I’ve had haemophilia since birth. In many ways it’s an invisible disability until you have a bleed, which in my case has led to arthritis and ankle joint damage.
At school I experienced bullying and name-calling. By the time I was at secondary school other kids constantly made fun of me, as by this time I had a very noticeable limp. This started me on the road to doubting myself and losing confidence. I thought I’d never be able to do as well as the next person because I was disabled and had haemophilia.
My father used to tell me stories about his life in the RAF and I developed a passion for aircraft and flying. I wanted to follow in his footsteps, so at 18 I applied to the RAF to become a pilot, only to be turned down after the interview.
Instead I started work but again encountered problems. At the time workplaces weren’t very understanding about disability. With frequent bleeds and problems with my ankles, in the end I lost every job I had through having to have time off.
A fall finished my working life – to preserve my ankles and cut down on bleeds it would be better for me not to work. This was another blow, as at that time I’d got to fly – even if it was only gliders. Not working meant not enough money to carry on flying.
Then one day I came across an advert for Flying Scholarships for Disabled People (FSDP). My father and my girlfriend both told me to apply on the basis that I had nothing to lose. I wasn’t so certain: I thought that I would fail, as I had come to think I failed at everything.
In the end they gave me the push I needed and I applied. I couldn’t believe it when I heard I’d been put through to the next stage of selection! Then in early 2014 I was told I’d been selected to go to RAF Cranwell. When the day came I set off, still assuming I wasn’t going to get anywhere.
Over the next three days I had a medical and interviews so the staff could get to know me and hear how my disability had affected me. I also met my mentors, two great guys and a huge source of help and inspiration.
Once back home I got the shock of my life when I had the phone call to say I’d got a scholarship! I was going to train to be a pilot! The RAF Charitable Trust was funding me and I would start training that summer.
After picking up my flying kit and the books I’d need from RAF Fairford, I set off for Bournemouth Flying Club to start my three weeks’ training. With brilliant weather I got to fly twice a day and study in the evening. I also got to mix with other pilots and gained some good friends. And when I returned to Bournemouth to finish my training, I flew my first solo flight in an aircraft! Now I’m continuing my flying at Kemble, with a new instructor, and I’m aiming to get my full flying licence in the near future.
I didn’t really notice at the time, but I’d started to believe in myself. I wasn’t only doing things that other people could do, but doing them with my disability. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I could fly a plane, but my confidence has grown and I no longer doubt myself. FSDP made me see I was worth something – and not only that, but I was just like everyone else.
The FSDP scholarship has been a life changer for me – there’s no way to explain the excitement and pleasure I get from flying. It’s made me a better person to be around too – now I try anything I want to and enjoy life to the full!
If you’re interested in flying but never thought you could, visit the FSDP website or look them up on Facebook under Flying Scholarships for Disabled People.