DBF Alumnus Stewart McQuillan

The onward journey of remarkable DBF Alumnus Stewart McQuillan has been brought to our attention by Sean D. McClung, Colonel, USAF, ret. We are very grateful to Colonel McClung for this fascinating and very inspiring update.

“I am writing to let you know of an early DBF alumnus (1997), who has achieved great things and is continuing to encourage and inspire disabled pilots. Stewart McQuillan, a former RAF Officer, Tornado GR1 engineer, and pilot, was injured in the line of duty in 1989 and became paraplegic.
Through DBF, he received his wings using hand controls in a fixed-wing aircraft. At the awards ceremony, he was challenged by King Hussein of Jordan to fly helicopters. This had never previously been done and Stewart, with help from Bristow Helicopters in conjunction with the Army air Corps, subsequently invented a device to allow paraplegics to fly helicopters. This was approved by the FAA as a medical device in 2001 and Stewart became the first paraplegic in the world to be certified to fly a helicopter. He has since incorporated the device in experimental helicopters to make it even easier for the wheelchair-bound to fly.”  (Sean D. McClung, Colonel, USAF, ret)

It was heartwarming to learn how Stewart’s life has progressed since our contact with him 27 years ago!

The Aeroleg

Because flying a helicopter requires the use of both hand and foot controls, it had always been thought that it would be impossible for someone without the use of their legs to fly one. However, King Hussein of Jordan’s challenge to Stewart at the wings award ceremony would lead to the overturning of that assumption…
DBF Alumnus Stewart McQuillan
Stewart with King Hussein of Jordan at the wings award ceremony – a challenge is issued!
Stewart with Queen Noor

With help from Bristow Helicopters in conjunction with the Army Air Corps, Stewart who is also an electrical engineer invented a device which would allow paraplegics to fly helicopters. The Aeroleg is a thumb-controlled robotic leg that runs on a pneumatic system and is sufficiently fine-tuned to enable the subtlety of leg movements required to operate the sensitive controls safely. In 2001, the Aeroleg was approved as a medical device by the FAA and Stewart became the first paraplegic in the world to be certified to fly a helicopter. The fact that Stewart has since gone on to use his device to make it easier for other wheelchair users to fly seems typical of the man as you will learn from the rest of this post.

DBF Alumnus Stewart McQuillan  DBF Alumnus Stewart McQuillan

The Aeroleg, designed by Stewart with help from Bristow Helicopters in conjunction with the Army Air Corps, approved by the FAA in 2001 and now enabling pilots with disabilities to fly helicopters
Stewart McQuillan - DBF Alumnus 1997!
DBF Alumnus Stewart McQuillan working on the “World First” Helicopter from a Permobil Standing Chair
 DBF Alumnus Stewart McQuillan
Stewart using a gantry with a transport sling to work on the top of the helicopter. As well as being the first person with  paraplegia to fly a helicopter, Stewart is the first to build one.  See the finished helicopter below.
(Stewart’s Service Dog, King, has seen it all before…!)
(Link 1: You can learn more of Stewart’s inspiring story by following the 1st video link at the bottom of this post.)

The National Veterans Vocational Village (NV3) Foundation

The National Veterans Vocational Village…
In 2019, DBF Alumnus Stewart McQuillan established the National Veterans Vocational Village (NV3) Foundation with co-founders, Sean McClung, CEO and Kristen Christy, who has overcome incredible obstacles and done some remarkable things herself. She suffered a stroke as a teenager that left her unable to walk (she was able to walk again after 1.5 years of therapy), experiencing the loss of her first husband (a military pilot and Lt Col) to suicide, and accomplishing pathfinding work in establishing a US nationwide 3-digit suicide and crisis helpline. Those who are struggling as of just two years ago, now need only dial 9*8*8 to get the urgent help they need, thanks to her perseverance. Clearly a formidable and intrepid team!
We are a community of Vets helping other Vets & First Responders to Heal, Grow, Strive & Achieve – NV3 Foundation Mission Statement

NV3 is a self-sustaining vocational training center that educates, employs, and empowers our Veterans from all services.

“Our continued mission is to build and provide a Village Community that will house disabled and injured veterans and those with invisible wounds, transitioning from military and first responder duties to civilian life.

The village provides a sense of community and esprit de corps, builds life-saving and lasting connections, and enables veterans to learn new skills or to relearn old ones in order to begin new, productive, rewarding careers.”

There are ambitious plans in store for the Village with the Ground Breaking Mission planned for 2025 to coincide with the 35th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Awareness and fundraising activities for between 40 and 2000 acres of land will precede ground-breaking.

The developments are set out in 2 Phases.

  1. Phase 1 (2025 -2027): Central to NV3 is a village of accessible housing to be made available for disabled veterans and those with invisible wounds. The NV3 village development is modeled after a European Village or a small US military installation. On the compound vocational training facilities are included, including a helipad for those who wish to fly again.
  2. Phase 11 (2027 – 2028): The next phase of NV3 development is a larger assortment of housing, the expansion of educational / vocational offerings and recreational activities. Housing planned includes the following:
  • Community Life in a multi-residence (house apartments) complex
  • Cottage Homes
  • Subsidized and Affordable homes
  • Cottage Home development & RV Homes
  • Potentially Airpark homes for living and working
  • Senior, Assisted Living and Memory Care Facilities

Additional Facilities: Alongside the homes a wide range of facilities will be provided for Veterans: Community Services; Community Attractions and Community Recreation and Entertainment.

(Link 2: Check out the 2nd link beneath this post to see the comprehensive range of resources that will be available to the Veterans.)

This is an incredibly ambitious scheme and, of course, will require substantial funds to complete. Which is where Stewart with his admirable focus and dedication comes in again…



Stewart McQuillan DBF Alumnus 1997!
The completed “World First” Helicopter
Clearly not one to rest on his already impressive laurels, Stewart is now aiming to become the first person with paraplegia to circumnavigate the globe in a helicopter. The specific helicopter Stewart will use for this challenge isn’t decided yet and we’ll keep you updated as more information becomes available but it’s quite possible that it may be one he built or adapted himself! This would be an extraordinary achievement and by undertaking this brave challenge, he hopes not only to raise substantial funds for the NV3 Foundation Project but, importantly, to encourage and inspire other disabled pilots.
This tour will provide hope and inspiration for all persons with disabilities – Sean D. McClung, Colonel, USAF, ret. Co-founder and CEO NV3 Foundation
(Link 3: You will find information about Stewart’s challenge using Link 3 beneath this post.)

The Raptor Foundation

In a different but associated achievement, in 1989 prior to Stewart’s connection with the DBF, he established the Raptor Foundation in the UK for injured birds of prey, with his then wife, Liz. This strikes a chord with me as it seems that for people who love flying, that love transcends the human limitations. I remember Sir Douglas sitting in the garden of his house near Newbury, pipe in hand, peacefully watching birds, often the majestic birds of prey that used to frequent the skies over the fields and woodlands of Bucklebury, riding the thermals high above. Unable by then to fly himself, he got huge comfort and joy from watching flight in perhaps its purest form.
(Link 4: For more information on The Raptor Foundation use Link 4 beneath this post.)
It is a great pity that these 2 men with so much in common never got to meet. There’s no doubt that with their courage and determination never to be beaten (as well as their love of animals), they would have had a lot in common and a lot to talk about. They would undoubtedly have enjoyed each other. I know Sir Douglas would have been delighted to have been able to support and encourage Stewart at the start of what has been and continues to be a momentous adventure.

* We will be featuring DBF Alumnus Stewart McQuillan again shortly with a post which will focus on his “First Paraplegic to Circumnavigate the Globe in a Helicopter” Fundraising Challenge. The post willl include a discussion between Stewart and DBF CEO, David Bickers MBE, who last met at the start of Stewart’s journey back in 1997! It should be both fascinating and very inspiring.*