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Wed, May 02, 2007

Blind Pilot Completes Epic Trike Flight

Flies 13,500 Miles, From London To Sydney

Miles Hilton-Barber landed his plane in Sydney, Australia on Monday. That may not sound so unusual, but for two things: he flew an ultralight 13,500 miles from London... and he's blind.

Hilton-Barber endured snowstorms, freezing temperatures and torrential downpours during his 59-day journey under the supervision of his sighted co-pilot Richard "Storm" Meredith-Hardy, according to The Kansas City Star.

"It's the fulfillment of an amazing dream," Hilton-Barber, 58, told reporters at Sydney's Bankstown airport. "I've wanted to be a pilot since I was a kid. Now I'm totally blind and I've had the privilege of flying more than halfway around the world."

According to the pilot's personal blog, the microlight is a Mainair Quik GT450 trike, and boasts a 100HP 4-stroke engine and customized long-range 160-litre fuel tank. The original plan was to "cruise at around 70 knots, making an average of two 4-hour flights each day."

Hilton-Barber is fully qualified as a microlight pilot. He's taken all appropriate aviation exams, but he's also the first to recognize limitations imposed by his blindness.

"I think there is a big difference between being adventurous and being foolhardy," he wrote before the flight. "I need Storm on board on the flights, but we plan to have a lot of fun together flying to Australia, encouraging people along the way to focus on the opportunities in their life, not their limitations. When I first went blind I thought it was the worst thing that could happen to me -- now I think it is probably the most exciting thing that has happened to me."

Hilton-Barber lost his eyesight to a hereditary condition about 20 years ago. He said he is hoping this trip will raise $2 million for "Seeing is Believing," which works for the prevention of blindness in developing countries.

He is also an accomplished athlete, having also climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and Mont Blanc and run marathons in the Sahara and Gobi deserts. He attempted to conquer the South Pole, having hauled a sledge over 250 miles across the Antarctic.

His historic flight isn't his first. Hilton-Barber flew from Biggin Hill air base in south London on March 7 in a microlight with the help of an audio device that reads out navigational information such as air speed and altitude.

(Photos from Hilton-Barber's blog, see FMI link below.)

FMI: www.mileshilton-barber.com/blog/

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