of Wheelies with Wings
Suzi Duncan Scholarships
The awards are named in recognition of the
courage, skill and determination of a woman
who faced the consequences of childhood
polio and became a flying instructor. She initiated
the concept of Wheelies with Wings,
has invented a hand control to make it possible
for people with lower limb disability to
fly, and has personally raised significant
funds to finance Wheelies with Wings. As a
qualified instructor, she has given flying
training to a number of disabled people in
1990. The concept of a programme to teach more people with a disaility
to fly was born when Suzi first took to the skies herself. The pure
joy of being able to do something so unaffected by her so called disability
created a strong need to share with others this new sense of freedom
and accomplishment. It was this dream that drove her to a Commercial
Licence and Instructor Rating.
Suzi had heard about a programme in UK in memory of Douglas Bader and
even at that early stage tried to find out information about it.
1995.Suzi obtained an Instructor Rating and her then Chief Flying Instructor
encouraged and supported her in every way.
She asked permission of a multimillionaire
paraplegic to use his modified aircraft to teach other disabled students to fly free of charge. However the cost of using this aircraft was very high and Suzi soon found that the need was there to start raising money for a scholarship program Vision Air.
Some people with a disability do have money many do not.
The hand control used also had a number of design faults and
only fitted pre 1974 Piper training aircraft. So Suzi decided to try and
design a hand control that would overcome the faults and fit a flying
school aircraft wit a quick release system.
1997. Suzi went to her flying school's Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA)
Airworthiness Inspector, describing what, why and how she wanted to do
it and with in two months they had the prototype.
The prototype was still too expensive and a little too heavy. Gippsland
Aeronautics then became involved and refined the manufacturing of the
hand control. This reduced the weight by 2/3, the cost by 2/3 and improved
the control force inputs even further.
All test flying was done by Suzi with her CASA co designer sitting
beside her assessing. This was also done at her own cost. A couple of
the aircraft owners gave the use of their aircraft for the test flights
for the price of the fuel only. All the various models of Piper trainers
available in Australia were tested.
Suzi started flying around extensively publicising the now Wheelies
with Wings WwW.
Any and all money donated to WwW went into aircraft costs for teaching
In 1998 Suzi Duncan received a Winston Churchill Memorial Fellowship.
Suzi travelled to the UK to meet with Air Commodore Martin
Abbot who was at that point running the Douglas Bader Scholarship Program. As the aviation industry is very small world word quickly spread. Unbeknown
to us, British Aerospace and an American company had been trying to
do what we had done in two months, for the last 5 years. Two People
from the UK e-mailed me and then actually came over to have a look at
the hand control. Thus Suzi met Peter and Polly
David Lowy became involved financially
and also helped with respect to how to word letters requesting money.
On her return there was an increased opportunity to fly around and speak
to various people about WwW. Suzi also became very heavily involved with
the Aviation medical side of things.
1999. Flying around raising money
2000. Other people became involved and the need was felt that for WwW
to continue and develop WwW needed more man power and a better business
component. Terry Wesley Smith, David Clegg, Ian Richards, Jeff Brock
and Glenn Todhunter became involved.
Up until this stage Suzi had managed to raise $60,000.00 and four individuals
had benefited through to the “Restricted Licence” (now called
the GFPT) and many others benefited in smaller ways. Teaching was still
done free of charge.
The WwW then moved from Moorabbin to Canberra. Suzi moved into a more passive role and allowed her baby to be managed by others. Tto this day Suzi plays an important active role in fundraising and will always be the mother of Wheelies.
More emphasis was now put on the rehabilitation aspect and there were
to be two courses per year of three people per course (money permitting).
Giving someone a licence was not the aim but rather putting an individual
in a situation where they could prove to them selves that there many
extraordinary things they could do in spite of physical disabilities.
The courses were moved to Cooma. It is here that locals Chris Adams
and Steve Shirvington became involved.
Later another move to Temora and the introduction of the Foxbat aircraft.
See all the courses we have run, click here
A few years on and the current board still relies on Suzi's advice and counsel in running Wheelies. Despite her preference for avoiding the limelight Suzi when invited will give inspiring speeches at all sorts of venues when the chance arises and this often will result in unexpected donations to WWW. When people or organizations hear her speak about the difference flying made to her life they realise that the Wheelies program is a very special one.
Suzi has other talents: she is a bronze and clay sculptor, photographer (including aerial) and artist ( leadlight) and local community worker.
June 2009 was a very special day when Suzi received the Order of the Medal of Australia "For service to people with a disability, particularly through the Wheelies with Wings program, and to the community."