by Jacek Kóbiesa
1000 km. Is this just 1000 km, only 1000 km or OMG 1000 km? How many of us, soaring pilots, are dreaming of achieving the magical 1000 km distance? For many, 300 km is an achievement, and for some the number goes up to 500 km, but let's be honest; 1000 km is an achievement that any soaring pilot can be proud of. Now, imagine flying the 1000 km distance, but at the same time not be able to walk. Interested? The whole 1000 km distance flying adventure for Adam Czeladzki of Warsaw Aero club began during the Polish Nationals in the 18 meter class on August 17, 2009. On that fateful day, Adam crash-landed in his LS-8 sailplane, sustaining spinal injuries that rendered him a paraplegic. In most cases people who survive an aircraft crash will not return to flying. Not Adam; he accepted the outcome of the accident, in part because of the mistake he made during a critical phase of flight such as the landing, but mainly because of the pure love of engineless flight. That by itself is not as remarkable as the fact, that in Adam’s native Poland, the rigors of a flight physical are extremely high and, in my opinion, are comparable to a testing regime resembling the Space Shuttle astronauts. Paraplegic pilot in Poland? It never happened before.
Adam Czeladzki remained optimistic. After series of surgeries and physical therapy treatments, Adam in May of 2010 began steps in order to regain his flight medical certificate. He received his flight medical certificate under the JAR FCL3, which enables him to fly a glider with a hand steering system only. But now the issue arose of what kind of glider would he fly? Adam sold his spot for a ASG-29 to a fellow pilot and almost instantly he came across EASA info about certification of a Discus 2CT with hand steering. After that things went rather fast. Adam took delivery of a brand new glider just before the 2010 18 m Polish Nationals that took place at same airfield at which Adam lost mobility in his legs. So, exactly one year after his accident, Adam participated in the same contest, his new challenges notwithstanding. At that time, he really appreciated the involvement of Schempp Hirth.
Most of the aero clubs in Poland are not accommodating to people with disabilities. There are no ramps for wheelchairs either to club buildings or the hangars. There are no restrooms for disabled people and there is no help on the horizon. As a matter of fact, nobody at the Warsaw Aero Club really cared about Adam's problems; his recovery and later his success was of no consequence.
In Poland it is possible to fly 1000 km weatherwise; however, due to the restrictions in the national airspace it is in many cases impractical and in some cases impossible to fly any distances. During my visit to Poland in August 2011, I was astounded by the soaring weather and complete quietness in the air. Here in the USA you look up and you will see a flying aircraft, whether it is an airliner or GA but something is always flying. It is not the same in Poland and, as a matter of fact, in many parts of Europe.
In Poland there were seven pilots who had claimed 1000 km flights. Africa, here comes Adam! Now Poland has eight pilots who can claim 1000 km flights, except Adam Czeladzki did it four times. Adam joined a group of Polish soaring pilots for a trip to Gariep Dam in South Africa. As of this writing Adam Czeladzki is No. 1 on OLC in Africa and No.8 in the World. For a soaring pilot it is an extraordinary achievement, but for someone with disabilities? You can only answer that for yourselves. I know in my case it will only give me that extra boost to work on my flying skills.
Adam Czeladzki is not done yet. Flying is a gift that many of us are privileged to have. Adam would like to share this gift with other disabled people whose dream of flying never took off. He established a civic campaign, “Flying without borders,” with a lofty goal of helping other disabled people to learn to fly. He met a lot of people in wheel chairs who would like to fly and there is already one candidate who received the necessary medical certification. But they will need a two-seat glider and the Duo Discus is the only one approved for this type of training. Adam is working with different organizations, associations and government entities in the hope that one of them, or maybe all of them, will help in fulfilling his goal.
Author Jacek Kóbiesa lives in Pasco, Washington and is a member of the Soaring Society of America, a CFI-G, IA, and a senior parachute rigger. Jack began flight training in 1980 in his native Poland, where he worked for PZL SZD Bielsko. During the past 32 years, Jack also earned a SEL airplane certificate and flew hang gliders.