The aviation charity will re-engineer the Vigilant T1 aircraft as the Grob 109 Able, specifically designed for disabled people.
Founded in 1993, Aerobility is a charity that provides flying experiences to people with disabilities, allowing many to take the controls and receive flying instruction at a fraction of the commercial rate. Now they have acquired former Royal Air Force gliders to further their mission to make the thrill of flying more available.
In 2018 the RAF grounded its fleet of Grob 109B motor gliders, known in the Service as the Vigilant T1. Following the announcement that they would be permanently removed from service, concerns about engineering practices and continuing airworthiness also raised doubts about whether these aircraft would ever fly again. This week, aviation charity Aerobility announced that the aircraft will be granted a new lease of life, as part of their ‘Project Able’ program.
Aerobility have not confirmed exact numbers of Grob 109B aircraft that they have acquired, stating only that “several” will be converted to enable the aircraft to be flown by people with disabilities, with others being made available for sale to help fund the charity.
The renovated aircraft will feature Garmin glass cockpit avionics and a new Rotax 912IS3 engine married to an MT propeller. At 100hp, this provides an increase of 5hp over the originally fitted Grob power unit. Airborne Composites and Southern Sailplanes have been retained to carry out airframe work on the aircraft.
These types of modernisations might be considered a prerequisite if they are to have success selling to the private market, and will bring them up to modern standards for training with the charity. The challenges of the upgrade however, likely pale in comparison to the work that has already been done negotiating the release of the troubled aircraft from the clutches of the Ministry of Defence, as this is not a sale into the experimental market. The aircraft will be EASA certified, and delivered with a manufacturer’s warranty and ongoing support. This has undoubtedly been a huge effort across a variety of partners, and Aerobility credit not only the CAA and Grob Aerospace, but also the Ministry for Transport, with being instrumental to the project.
Aerobility’s CEO Mike Miller-Smith said: “Acquiring these aircraft will help us transform the lives of an even greater number of disabled people by giving them the unrivalled sense of freedom through the magic of flight. We are extremely grateful to the Ministry of Defence, Department for Transport and our various partners for supporting us in this ambitious project. Not only will it help us build capacity for our future operations, it will enable us to expand the charity to support more disabled people and to do so at additional locations around the UK.”
Other benefits will include four full-time engineering positions at the charity, as well as a project management job, one in administration and several other part time posts including flying instructors.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “General aviation is the engine room of the entire aviation sector, so it’s vital that people from all backgrounds can access it. Some of our most successful pilots learnt to fly in a glider and I’m encouraged to see the work of charities like Aerobility offering similar experiences to people who may otherwise miss out.”