Sundeep Bhutoria

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ess bee

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Sunday, September 30, 2012

FITA – a unique flying school

Last whole week the London weather was what everybody would enjoy - cold and sunny. During the weekend, I went to the Cranfield Flying School about 90 kms from central London. I am not into sports or adventure sports at all, however, after flying around for a couple of hours in an airplane I did get an idea of how thrilling adventure sports could be.
All thanks to Gautam Lewis - a man of stupendous achievements. His life is an ordinary man's extraordinary story. He was born on the streets of Kolkata in 1977, he contracted polio at the age of 3 and was abandoned by his parents at 7 and was adopted by a British volunteer and nuclear physicist, Dr Patricia Lewis, from Mother Teresa's orphanage in Kolkata and brought to New Zealand and then to England.
With Gautam Lewis
Gautam went on to study at the Hill House in England where the children of the rich and famous go. This is the same preparatory school even Prince Charles went to. He graduated from Southampton University and entered into a successful career in music industry. But soon quit to set up Freedom in the Air (FITA) – a unique flying school for the disabled people in UK, which aims to inspire and empower through aviation.
Gautam, who as a boy used to fly kites from the roof of Mother Teresa's orphanage, went on to become the first disabled commercial pilot of the world. He is currently the Unesco ambassador for the Global Polio Eradication initiative.
Gautam came over and picked me up in his two-week-old BMW convertible which was perfect for this times weather. We headed for the Cranfield Flying School. After a couple of hours of flying sessions with Gautam, he dropped me back to my hotel.
I was very impressed seeing the pilot in him, his level of confidence and his sheer mastery over his aircraft. To be honest, I wasn't very keen to fly, but went there to see for myself the incredible fact how Gautam, despite his physical disability, could actually steer a craft with such ease and elan. The Cranfield University scientists have devised a hand held rudder control steering device for people with lower limb disability, eliminating the use of legs and feet.
Not just flying in an around the flying school, Gautam actually proposed that we should that we should go to Paris, have lunch, and return by evening. I politely declined.
I first met Gautam in London about four years ago. Later, I had organised an exhibition of his photographs at the Calcutta Information Centre. In his words, “Never underestimate yourself, you can do whatever you want.” I think he is right. He himself is a living example, or else, how do we explain that someone who has to take the help of crutches to walk goes around imparting flying lessons.
Truly, for him, sky is the limit.
ess bee

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