Survivor, Aviator, American
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew -
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untresspassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.
Pilot Officer Gillespie Magee
No 412 squadron, RCAF
Killed 11 December 1941
Bill Blackwood. (former barnstormer develops hand controls for handicapped pilots)
From: Paraplegia News
Date:June 1, 1995
Back around 1929, the daring flying of "Sideslip Blackwood" dazzled the folks below. The flying-circus antics of barn-stormers attracted large crowds. Bill Blackwood was a 7-year-old boy who often flew with his father to these air-shows, where he dreamed of the day when he would be at the controls of an airplane.
In 1941, Blackwood joined the U.S. Navy. He hoped to get into aviation as an enlisted pilot, but the start of hostilities with Japan put those plans on hold for several years. In 1944, while en route to the Philippines, he received orders to return to the States for flight training. Two years later he earned his wings and was assigned to a fighter group at North Island, Calif., where he flew the F8F Bearcat, the "hottest" fighter available in those days.
By July 1962, Blackwood had amassed more than 5,500 hours of pilot time; he flew many different kinds of aircraft from fighters to flying boats. On a fateful Friday the 13th, while in a jet fighter trainer - the Cougar - he found himself upside down in an inverted spin. Unable to stop the spin, he and his student ejected at 10,000 feet. Due to the tremendous G forces, Blackwood was unable to acquire a good seat position prior to the ejection. When the seat fired, the vertebrae in his back compressed and forced the T12 vertebra out of his spinal column. He was paraplegic while still strapped to the seat.
Fortunately all the automatic sequences occurred, and the chute opened. But without use of his legs as a cushion, Blackwood landed hard. Unable to move, he lay on his back and, using his whistle, guided his student to his side. They were rescued a few hours later. Blackwood was flown to Brook Army Hospital in San Antonio, where a surgical procedure fused the T12.
After six months, Blackwood was transferred to the VA hospital in Long Beach, Calif., for rehab. It appeared his flying days were over, so he entered the field of real estate.
In 1965, he heard about another para who was flying with hand controls. He contacted the other person, and they flew together. Blackwood realized he could get back into the love of his life: flying.
According to pilot Bill Blackwood, flying is the love of his life.
At this time, no portable hand controls were available for aircraft. Because buying and equipping an airplane was so expensive, only a few disabled pilots flew. Blackwood set out to design a hand control that would be inexpensive and removable after each flight.
A year of development and testing brought forth the Cherokee hand control, which the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has approved for the entire series of Cherokee aircraft. The device became the first "portable" hand control approved for any pilot to use; it opened the doors for several hundred paras, quads, and amputees who took to the sky.
Blackwood then returned to aviation by becoming manager of a fixed-base operation and giving flight instruction. During the next several years, he received commendations from FAA and recognitions and awards from various groups.
In 1968, Blackwood and three other para pilots formed the International Wheelchair Aviators (IWA). Favorable publicity attracted others who wanted to learn to fly, so the club grew. Annual events have taken place all over the West Coast and as far east as St. Cloud, Minn.
Blackwood retired from flight instruction in 1983 and devoted his time to working with IWA, which consisted of 50 or 60 members. The group developed information packets and videotapes. Thanks to media coverage of IWA activities, club membership has grown to more than 225 people worldwide. The organization has answered thousands of phone calls and letters about hand-controlled flying.
Blackwood and hundreds of other people with disabilities have continued their flying careers. Through their example, the dream of flying has been passed on to many. "IWA has provided very positive role models to disabled as well as able-bodied communities," Blackwood says. He and IWA continue to lend their expertise to anyone interested in aviation.