What Has Wheelchair Users Up in the Air These Days?
Another amazing entertainment and adventure company is providing resources that have rarely been available to customers in wheelchairs. This represents another leap in allowing people with disabilities to enjoy the same pastimes and thrills that are enjoyed by able-bodied people every day, and it proves the sky’s the limit—for everyone.
In this case, the adventure in question is the simple ability to take rides in hot air balloons. Kevin Cloney, owner of Las Vegas-based Love is in the Air Ballooning, LLC, has added a specially designed balloon to his fleet, one that’s outfitted with a customized basket made to accommodate a wheelchair.
This balloon—dubbed Chariot of Fire—is only the fifth of its kind in the United States and is designed by Illinois-based balloon designer Lindstrand Balloons USA. It took half a year to put together. The basket’s features include a near-unbreakable polycarbonate ramp which can flip up to become the wall of the balloon basket. The rider and wheelchair are strapped in, using a similar harness to that worn by race car drivers.
Polycarbonate is also a transparent form of plastic, so it also serves as a window through which the wheelchair patron can view the breathtaking vistas.
The project came about after Cloney and his fiancée, Vickie Smith, hosted a passenger with mobility issues on their balloon and had a great deal of trouble getting her into and out of the balloon, eventually resulting in the woman having to crawl out of the basket, which had been tipped on its side. At this point they decided it was time to get a basket designed to accommodate people with mobility issues. They eventually partnered with Lindstrand, and their new FAA-certified wheelchair basket was ready to fly. Since then, dozens of customers in wheelchairs have taken flights in the Chariot of Fire.
Shannon Burkett, 57, was one of the very first passengers to ride the balloon. Burkett suffers from severe arthritis and pulmonary hypertension, both of which confine her to a wheelchair. When her friend Angel Obney called with the suggestion that they have some fun the next day, Shannon was all in, though she was puzzled about the 5AM start time Obney requested. What she didn’t know was that her friend had an amazing surprise in the works.
“My dad had been a pilot, and I loved anything to do with [flying],” Burkett said. “But I’d been in a wheelchair for two or three years—I’m morbidly obese—so I never dreamed I’d be able to do this.”
After the flight, Burkett was elated. “I just started crying, I was so happy,” she said. “It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life.”
The memorable gift from her friend became a catalyst for change; Shannon joined Weight Watchers, and it’s working. Of her new outlook, Shannon says, “Until this I had become a spectator in my own life instead of a doer. I don’t want to watch it go by. I’ve got a new lease on life.”
Here’s a video from the hot-air ballooning company that takes wheelchair riders for the ride of their life! Do we have any takers out there! (Editor’s Note: I’ve been hot-air ballooning, and it’s like no other experience. The silence and the smooth ride, as incredible as they are, can’t compare to the view from up there! SH)