Captain Stewart McQuillan, a paraplegic from the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force, whose father and grandfather before him were also pilots, may very well be the most famous paralyzed pilot in the world, and he’s been working hard to make it easier for other pilots with disabilities to fly.
McQuillian, who is also an electric engineer, invented the Aeroleg, a robotic leg for pilots with disabilities. It allows pilots who are paraplegics like Captain McQuillan to fly aircraft they could never fly before because of their inability to move their legs.
Helicopters (by far the trickiest), gliders and fixed-wing are just some of the planes/aircraft the Aeroleg will open up to pilots with disabilities, and what’s even cooler is that it’s already been approved by the FAA.
Here’s how it works: The Aeroleg is comprised of a pneumatic ram and solenoid valve. Essentially, it is a thumb-controlled robotic leg that runs on a pneumatic system. As you gently move this very cool thumb controller, the robotic leg responds in the subtle manner required for flying a helicopter. Only one leg brace is needed, too.
There is another hand control that’s also used to control the Aeroleg, and it has an extraction system to remove condensation from the lines. Also, in case the power system fails, it has a backup battery to allow for 30 additional hours of flight.
Full hand function is required to use the Aeroleg due to the obvious risks, however I wouldn’t put it past them at some point to create an adapted controller for low quadriplegics.
Here is McQuillan in action:
What’s interesting is that the Aeroleg was actually invented more than 10 years ago, and it was approved by the FAA back in 2001. Marketing has revved up on the Aeroleg due to an exciting recent partnership with The Tesla Institute, which agreed to rebuild the master control box and they’ve supposedly made some other awesome improvements.
Interested pilots must undergo six weeks of training at a special training facility for the Aeroleg located in Denver, and no special treatment is given (meaning you must go through all required courses nondisabled pilots go through).
That training facility is called Return Flight, and they were planning to open last year. It seems that plan has been put on hold (the Facebook page and web site are no longer active). If anyone knows any information on the possibility of Return Flight opening, please share in the comments below.
And for those that fly, happy flying, and here’s hoping one day the Aeroleg will become a mainstream flying device.
Would you have the guts to fly a helicopter with hand controls?