Did helen keller fly a plane Could Helen Keller, who was unable to hear or see, have flown an airplane across the Mediterranean Sea in 1946? “An airplane is like a great graceful bird sailing through the illimitable skies.” —Helen KellerHelen Keller was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama in 1880. At only 19 months old, she contracted a febrile illness that took her sight and hearing. Deaf, blind, and mute, she spent her youngest years struggling to make sense of the darkness that had settled over her life.
Helen Keller’s family used to describe her as being both wild and intelligent, which is quite understandable given everything she was able to achieve in her lifetime. For example, did you know that Helen Keller invented more than 60 hand signs for communication? Not only that, but she was also able to identify people by the vibration of their footsteps.
She added ‘pilot’ to her list of titles
“She jumped straight into the right seat of a four-engine Douglas C-54 Skymaster—an impressive aircraft for anyone to tackle, regardless of their level of experience.” Anne Sullivan came into Helen Keller’s life on a day that Keller would later call the birthday of her soul. Sullivan’s goal was to help Keller communicate through touch and show her that there was more to the world than she knew. It would be a difficult journey, as Keller often became frustrated and would lash out in anger. Before Sullivan came along, Keller had no idea that words even existed.
Sullivan used what she called a strategy of patience, love, and obedience with Keller and finally had a breakthrough in April 1887. Sullivan was running cool water through one of Keller’s hands and signing the letters “W-A-T-E-R” into the palm of Keller’s other hand.
She repeated the words and hand motions over and over until, finally, in one amazing moment, it all clicked for her. Keller was boiling over with excitement. “Water!” she exclaimed through her hand motions, going on to demand the names of everything around her. The door to the world had finally swung open for her.
Keller went on to successfully take on life’s challenges with great passion and determination. She was an extremely prolific author, activist, scholar and lecturer and earned many titles because of her successes. In fact, it’s even said that on one special day in June of 1946, she accomplished something quite extraordinary and added ‘pilot’ to her list of titles.
Helen Keller was an overachiever
She didn’t let her lack of sight or sound stop her from doing what she wanted. When she took her first flight lesson, she jumped right into the seat of a four-engine Douglas C-54 Skymaster – an impressive aircraft for anyone to tackle. As the pilot reached the shores of the Mediterranean, he handed over the flight controls, and for 20 glorious minutes, Keller soared across the sea.
Viral on social media Keller’s accomplishment
A recent viral social media post has attempted to discredit Keller’s accomplishment, saying that it was not only unimpressive, but impossible. @krunk19, self-proclaimed internet expert on TikTok, claims that her feat is impossible due to her many sensory limitations. This has caused people to question how she was able to pilot an aircraft.
Deaf-blind girl demonstrated that Tactical Sign Language could be used for flight instruction
In 2002, a 15-year-old deaf-blind girl demonstrated how the communication method known as Tactical Sign Language could be used for flight instruction. Climbing into the right seat of a Piper Warrior, she used one hand to manipulate the flight controls and the other to speak to her interpreter. Using a series of motions on the palm of her hand, the interpreter communicated the CFI’s instructions. Not only was the girl’s first flight lesson a success, but, like most of us, she immediately got hooked. She later told the press, “Maybe next time we’ll do more tricks!”
Though certification for the blind to fly may not be possible at this time
Although the certificate will come with the limitation, “Not Valid for Flights Requiring the Use of Radio” (14 CFR section 61.13), a hearing-impaired individual can still obtain a student, recreational or private pilot certificate in any of the five categories of aircraft: airplane, rotorcraft, glider, powered-lift and lighter-than-air aircraft. So long as communication isn’t required with air traffic control, they are good to go.
One small hurdle that student pilots face is that in order to qualify for their check ride and satisfy the requirements of Part 61, they must conduct three takeoffs and landings at a towered airport. To navigate this, the student and instructor can make prior arrangements with the tower so that a controller can use light signals instead of voice communication.
Though certification for the blind to fly may not be possible at this time, it doesn’t mean that those who are visually impaired can’t still enjoy flying as a passenger. Advances in in-flight technology would be required in order for certification to ever become a reality, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from living out their dreams of taking to the skies.
Keller’s story is one of strength and determination in the face of adversity
Despite being deaf and blind, Helen Keller was still able to fly an aircraft using Tactical Sign Language communication with her travel companion, Polly Thompson. Even though she couldn’t hear the engine or see the view from above, she could feel the exhilaration of controlling the plane in flight. This goes to show that Keller’s story is one of strength and determination in the face of adversity. Helen said that flying made her feel more physically free than anything else had in her life, and it’s easy to see why that is. For a pilot, the sky is their office, and they’re constantly exploring new horizons.