The Flying Chair Project

Gísli is one of the founders of True Adventure - an Icelandic company offering tandem paragliding flights. He is passionate about flying and sharing the thrill of it with others. Gísli is also an active campaigner for accessibility for people with disabilities in Iceland. As part of this he wanted to 'take accessibility to the skies' so anyone with mobile impairment can experience the true sense of freedom and calm that comes with free flight. It has been almost a year of planning, organising and bringing it to reality. Here's the story:

What inspired you to kick off the Flying Chair project?

It was my friend Brandur who has been paralysed from the neck down since he was 24. He and I are very similar - we are both outdoor guys and like adventures. Getting to know him and realising the extent to which his everyday life is affected by his mobility impairment made me appreciate just how we all take for granted the fact that we can move freely around and go about our business. This is not the case for guys like Brandur for whom even taking a short road trip becomes a major challenge - planning access, stops, suitable locations etc. Not to mention being outdoors and enjoying nature and all it has to offer us. Despite being paralysed, Brandur has kept his upbeat personality and vibrant spirit and doesn't let his disability get in the way of him enjoying life to the fullest. This inspired me to think and act not only in helping people like Brandur to have a better everyday quality of life but also to share the adventure and fun that I experience in flying. And this was how the Flying Chair project started.

Flying Chair in action over Reynisdrangar, Vík

What were people's reactions to the idea?

Everyone's attitude has been very positive and people have truly embraced the idea. It has inspired a number of individuals and companies to think how they can contribute to resolving accessibility issues in Iceland. If a small start-up like True Adventure can undertake such a complex project like the Flying Chair then it can be done by others in many other areas as well.
It has had a real impact in South Iceland where we are based and where we have raised awareness about the issue the most. Many projects have started as a result. For example the Tourist Information Center in VÌk has plans to fix their accessibility so anyone in a wheelchair can visit them without a problem.

Who did you involve in the project?

It was a real team effort with many people getting involved and co-operating right from the start.  Once the project became public we were contacted by the prosthetic manufacturer Össur and Hafsteinn Jónasson from Össur who is also a trained pilot and an airplane builder became the lead engineer on the project. My co-founder Samuel was a real rock throughout the whole time - helping with ideas, building and testing. Everyone was happy to put in their time and energy to make the Flying Chair come to life

The team behind the Flying Chair

How did it all happen - what did you go through to make it a reality?

It all started with Brandur asking me 'Can I fly with you?'. My answer straight away was 'no way, too dangerous'. I then spent a sleepless night and the next day I called Brandur again. I couldn't say 'no' so I had a plan. However I knew that there were additional risks associated with flying with someone with mobility impairment. I didn't want to take any chances as I wanted the experience to be as safe as possible so it can be enjoyable and fun too. While I was planning how to do the flight, I also started a campaign to raise money for the cause. Then Össur contacted us and offered to design and build the chair with us. Of course this was a great opportunity as we could tap into their engineering expertise and production facilities. We decided to use the money already raised to bring the accessibility issue to people's attention. As a result, this summer there will be at least 7 people with disabilities who will be invited to fly with us in Iceland. We will be posting updates on our Facebook page and website.

What were the main challenges you faced?

The main challenge was how time consuming the project was. In terms of technical issues it was the cold weather - for people with disabilities, especially with mobility impairment, the cold can be a serious threat. If you combine this with the excitement of flying, it can be of real concern as these two factors can cause issues such as the person having a spasm.

How did you address these issues?

To address the problem with the cold air we decided to use a pod harness and purchased one from Independence. It does two things - supports you well and keeps you warm. Excitement is a natural and positive part of flying especially if it's your first time. We believe that the way to address it [so it doesn't turn into a negative] is by briefing extensively the person beforehand so he knows what to expect and goes into the flight without unnecessary tension. So when he becomes airborne he will just enjoy the peace of flying and will have a super awesome experience.

Yesterday you tested it with a passenger? How was it?

The first passenger was the main engineer from Össur - our friend Hafsteinn. We were quite tense before the flight as it has been such a long time of planning and preparation. Up until the very last moment before we took off everyone was under intense pressure. But it all went very smoothly - a perfect take-off, a perfect flight and a perfect landing. It was actually almost effortless; we couldn't have wished for a better one.

What's next for the Flying Chair?

Our next step is to fly with Brandur and after that to make it possible for more people to fly with us in Iceland. But we don't want to stop at this. We will make it available as an open source project for everyone to use. Hopefully it will be suitable for both tandem and solo flights. This is only the first version and we plan to improve it with the support of other inventors, campaigners for accessibility and the global paragliding community. We will publish all details of the project on the True Adventure website. Our ultimate goal is to make a small mark in the history of aviation - even if it's just a dot, it will still mean a lot to us and to people with disabilities. And of course to have fun in the process!

The Flying Chair Project movie

We have been documenting the whole project from the beginning. Our aim is to make a feature documentary about the project and its future potential. We have already made a short 3 minute film which we submitted to the MY RØDE REEL competition. We're hoping to win the People's Choice awards, as the prize will go a long way funding our feature. Making a feature length film is an expensive process, so every bit helps. The competition is an online voting contest so now we're keeping busy collecting votes. For those who haven't voted yet, you can do so at http://www.rode.com/myrodereel/watch/entry/1012 , just click the vote button and you'll be helping us a ton!

Want to fly?

TrueAdventure offers tandem paragliding trips for adventurer seekers in Iceland. Check out our Tandem flight tour over South Iceland for an unforgettable experience. 

Contact True Adventure