Deaf 16-y-o pilot aspirant on cloud nine after first flight experience
“I feel like I would do it again.”
Those were the words signed by 16-year-old deaf student Rolando Grant, moments after he completed a flight experience across sections of Kingston and St Andrew on Wednesday.
Rolando’s story was highlighted by The Gleaner on July 5, after missing out on face-to-face and online classes for two years due to an unissued birth certificate.
Though his mother has engaged him in educational activities, she said he has suffered significant learning loss because of the absence of professional tutelage.
In the interview, Grant had also shared his aspirations of becoming a pilot, working in information technology or becoming a farmer.
Co-founder and director of maintenance at the Aeronautical School of the West Indies (ASWI) Christopher Gooding told The Gleaner that a student shared Rolando’s story with him and he decided to foster his dream by providing him with a flight experience with an instructor.
“When they called me, I was like, ‘What?’ I was very excited,” said his mother, Anna-Kay Williams.
Gooding explained that there are not many institutions or countries where deaf people can obtain a pilot certificate.
“The United States of America has a programme for them to get a recreational certificate to fly, but they have to be accompanied by a pilot who hears well because the industry depends a lot on the audible transmission and reception of data and information when it comes to flying. It is not entirely impossible for him to get a certificate, but until the regulations change [to] facilitate him in Jamaica, it will be difficult,” Gooding explained.
He added that the institution accommodates people with disabilities as best as possible and as often as they can for flight experiences, but they do not have an unlimited budget.
“We wish for some entities to come on board, like some of the foundations, and sponsor the cost for some of them,” Gooding said.
A few minutes before take-off, Rolando told The Gleaner that he was nervous but excited to see the view.
The aircraft took off at Tinson Pen Aerodrome and journeyed to the Mona Dam, Constant Spring, Red Hills and Portmore for one circuit – the flight lasting approximately 15 minutes.
“It’s his first time, so we want to make it as short and sweet as possible, rather than taking him on a lengthy and mentally challenging flight,” Gooding said.
Before boarding the aircraft, instructor Captain Sheldon Irons explained that Rolando would only be required to gently move the flight control.
Irons walked him through the checklist before take–off – checking the oil, flaps and brakes, among other things – and he used hand signals to communicate with the teen in-flight.
His mother was in awe as the Cessna 152 took to the skies, her eyes wide open and her hand covering her mouth.
Sharing that she has never been on an aircraft, Williams said, “A wonder how him feel? That’s like thousands of feet high!”
Williams shed a few tears of joy as the aircraft disappeared into the distance and waited in anticipation for its landing.
During the flight, Rolando’s gleeful eyes veered towards the window taking in the view, though hazy as a result of the Saharan dust cloud.
“It was nerve-racking and I felt weak. I saw houses and other planes. The instructor told me to turn left and turn right. It was alright, but I want more practise. I feel like I would do it again,” Rolando said after the flight experience.
The mother-son duo expressed their gratitude to ASWI for a “great experience”.
“I really, really appreciate it,” Williams said.
Rolando also had the opportunity to use a flight simulator and received commendations from his instructor.
Giving an update on the birth certificate issue, Williams told The Gleaner that she has since submitted the notification of birth in a public institution, along with a completed late registration of birth form, to the Registrar’s General Department.
She is awaiting the call to pick up the birth certificate, so she can register her son for the upcoming academic year.