Retired veteran creates device to enable paralyzed pilots the ability to fly again

Marc Cota-Robles Image
Thursday, March 14, 2024
Retired military pilot is helping others overcome challenges
"It's just a wheelchair. You're still the same person underneath." A military pilot who suffered a career-ending injury that left him a paraplegic created a device that enables others with disabilities to still fly.

ANAHEIM, Calif. (KABC) -- A retired military pilot's life completely changed after suffering an injury that left him paraplegic. Despite facing the challenge of a lifetime, he has remained unstoppable! Thanks to him, other paralyzed pilots have the possibility to fly again, but his ultimate goal is to save lives.

Capt. Stewart McQuillan is a veteran of the Royal and U.S. Air Force, and uses a wheelchair. But for years, it hasn't kept him on the ground. Not only does he still fly, he built the only FAA-approved device to enable other paralyzed vets, first responders or simply aspiring pilots to do the same.

"You think your life's over, you know, all I know is how to fly, what am I gonna do?" said McQuillan.

He was in Anaheim for the recent "Heli-Expo" to show it all off.

"Whatever I do with my thumb, the pedals will match it," he demonstrated. "There's a quick connector that goes to the pedal and it holds the leg on the pedal. It's a little bit like going from a bicycle to a unicycle so once you master it, you got it for life, you know?"

McQuillan uses the helicopter to train fellow paraplegic pilots. "It's just a wheelchair; it's a prosthetic limb that's it. You're still the same person underneath."

One of his goals is to help redirect emotions of panic, depression and suicide. He's part of the NV3 Foundation, alongside Kristen Christy, co-creator of the 9-8-8 veteran's crisis line.

"I unfortunately lost my first husband to suicide after a deployment in the Air Force, so I understand what families go through in the aftermath," said Christy. "The boys have struggled the most after their dad's suicide. Both of them have attempted. Research indicates that's more likely for those who have lost a loved one to suicide."

Knowing that incredible pain, there's more that she and McQuillan want to do - and they just received a generous donation to help the cause.

"We are trying to raise $60,000 because we've just been offered two helicopters," said McQuillan.

Their message?

"It is never too late to find new avenues for your talents," said Christy.

"It's not the end, all you gotta do is find us and we'll try to help you. Whether you're military or civil, we'll get you going again. You do have a future," said McQuillan.