Paraplegic pilot wants to inspire others to take flight

Stewart McQuillian is the first person with paraplegia to build a helicopter
Published: Jul. 26, 2022 at 7:12 PM CDT
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OSHKOSH, Wis. (WBAY) - One man, who’s living with paralysis, is on a mission to inspire others to overcome their obstacles in pursuit of their passion.

Stewart McQuillian is not only the first person with paraplegia to fly a helicopter, he’s also the first to build one. He’s hoping his achievements will motivate others to do the same.

”If a paraplegic can fly a helicopter, then he can do anything,” McQuillian says.

After a bad takeoff in his Royal Air Force fighter plane left McQuillian paralyzed from the waist down, this pilot knew he had to find another way to fly.

“All I could see was, are people looking at me because I’m in a wheelchair? Do they think I have some sort of mental disability? And I started to get that, that, does he take sugar syndrome? and I thought... that needed to change.”

So McQuillian got to work. First, re-learning how to fly in a fixed-wing aircraft.

Then using his knowledge to design and build the first experimental, accessible, hand-controlled helicopter with support from Rotor X.

“We worked on it and perfected it over the years, and the surgeon general said, ‘Bring it to America,’ and so we did.”

While this was a big achievement for McQuillian, he says it really was a win for all those who have been injured while serving their country.

“Life doesn’t stop because of your disability. There is a way around it. It’s just that you haven’t been shown a way.”

McQuillian hopes through his upcoming V.A. tour, where he plans to visit 24 V.A. spinal cord injury centers around the U.S., he can show others there are still opportunities for them in aviation.

“The guys are gonna see me in this and drop out down into a wheelchair, and they are going to go, ‘No.’ But then they are going to come forward and see the adapted controls.”

Since 2001, more than 30,000 veterans have died by suicide. McQuillian says his main goal through this mission is to decrease the suicide rates for veterans.

To help save lives and connect veterans to services, McQuillian secured the registration -- or N-number -- on his plane to be 988 -- the national suicide hotline number.

Stewart McQuillian wants to inspire others, especially veterans

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