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Paraplegic pilot in solo flight attempt

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Paraplegic pilot's solo flight attempt
  • Beginning early September, Sykes will fly over 11,600 nautical miles across the world
  • This is the first time a paraplegic pilot will attempt this record on a microlight
  • Sykes is still looking to raise funds up to £30,000 to make his dream reality

(CNN) -- A paraplegic pilot is planning an epic solo record-breaking flight from England to Australia.

Dave Sykes, 42, plans to make the journey in a microlight, an ultra-lightweight airplane.

Scheduled to fly in early September 2010, "Spokes" or "Wheely Dave," as he is known, will embark on a one-man mission through 18 countries, flying over 11,600 nautical miles.

It will be the first time someone in a wheelchair has attempted such a feat.

"It's never been done before," Sykes told CNN, at least not "by anyone in a wheelchair."

His journey across the skies will take him through countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Singapore and Indonesia. He anticipates the flight will take six to eight weeks, flying up to 500 miles and seven to eight hours per day.

Find out more about his route

Built by Britain's P&M Aviation Quik, Sykes' 450 kilogram microlight has been built with specially modified hand control that enables him to fly without using his legs.

The world doesn't end just because you're on a wheelchair, that's for sure."
--Dave Sykes, paraplegic pilot

A removable lightweight aluminum wheelchair was also built into the back of the aircraft.

Sykes is also embarking on the journey to raise funds for Yorkshire Air Ambulance and is urging more sponsors to contribute towards the £30,000 he needs to make this dream flight a reality.

The last time someone achieved a similar feat was British aviator Amy Johnson when she flew from Croydon, England to Darwin, Australia 80 years ago.

Sykes says flying gives him a sense of freedom "like going on a motorbike in the sky," he told CNN. "It was just really nice ... there were no cars and motorbikes around ... and the views ... ," he said.

In November 1993, he was on his way to work on his motorbike when the car he was overtaking swerved into him. One minute, he was on the road, the next, he was lying in a hospital bed thinking: "I'm still on my motorbike."

Sykes suffered extensive injuries, breaking his back and ribs. He also punctured both lungs in the accident. His family was told he had a 30 percent chance of survival.

He did make it and and six months after the accident was well enough to leave hospital. Today, he doesn't think about the past but acknowledges the accident set him on a path to flying.

He first tried parachuting for a charity. When he crashed and broke his leg for a second time, his girlfriend, Lesley, threatened to leave. He stopped and took up microlighting. That was 10 years ago and he hasn't looked back.

If Sykes is nervy about his impending flight, it does not show but admits the solitude could be an issue.

But he's ready to fight the psychological battle. He said: "It's just mind over matter. The world doesn't end just because you're on a wheelchair, that's for sure."


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