It was a day to remember one for the history books.
March 15, 2006, the World Flight for Hearing began in Akalla, Sweden. Pilot Johan Hammarstrm, who is severely hearing impaired, left Barkarby Airport, an unused Swedish Air Force base north of Stockholm, along with Henrik Ejderholm and Martin Hkansson who are not hearing impaired. However, Johan would do the flying all the way around the world a feat never accomplished before by a pilot who is hearing impaired. Henrik and Martin would handle routine flight tasks with Johan in the pilots seat.
The Diamond DA42 Twin Star, powered by two turbo diesel engines, dubbed the World Flyer, took off after months of preparation involving dozens of supporters a web master, public relations contact and others who recognized the significance of this achievement. Before take off, the support group located key sponsors GN ReSound, hrf, Shell Aviation and many other corporations around the globe. It took a long time, but the expedition was finally underway. Take off received extensive coverage from Swedish media an excitement filled the air as the aircraft lifted off the runway on the start of its round-the-world odyssey with Johan at the controls.
Spreading the Word
The crew of the World Flyer made numerous stops along the way to raise awareness of hearing impairment and the advancements in technical aids, some of which made this trip possible.
According to the expeditions web site, located at http://worldflightforhearing.com, the objectives of Johan and his host of supporters were to:
- draw attention to and spread information about hearing impairment;
- show the opportunities [using] modern hearing instruments;
- inspire people who are hearing impaired to reach their life goals;
- and assist in raising funds for hard of hearing organizations and for chosen research projects in the area of hearing impairment.
Project leader Hammarstrm kept a detailed blog of flight activities as pilot and crew landed in numerous small and large airports virtually around the globe. A typical entry from Johans log shows the pilots appreciation of the beauty and the people he encountered along the way.
March 19, 2006
We could have spent many days more in Dubrovnik it is a very nice and beautiful town and people are very nice and honest there! Flight plan was filed at the airport. Weather was not perfect. Clouds were quite dark and according to the forecast there was a front along our way down to Greece. The meteorologist seemed to be confused as he was standing on the apron of the airport looking in all directions at all clouds. It cant be very common with this weather!
Our departure from Dubrovnik was very exciting after take off you only had steep mountains in front of you so you had to follow a procedure taking you out over the ocean in order to climb up to safe altitude. Today we had a great tail wind which increased our ground speed to almost 200 knots! Over Albania we were almost flying at the same altitude as the mountain peaks. All mountains were covered with snow very beautiful!
Johans complete flight blog can be found on the projects web site and makes compelling reading for persons with hearing-impaired, hearing device manufacturers and pilots who have often dreamt about flying around the world.
The Route of the World Flyer
The route was chosen to provide the crew with many opportunities to speak about hearing impairment and the great technological strides made in the area of hearing science. Starting in Sweden, the crew flew across Europe with stops in Poland, Germany and Italy.
The flight continued across the Mid-East, touching down in Egypt, Iran and Pakistan. On to India, Thailand, Indonesia, Australia. Then, island hopping across the Pacific, the World Flyer touched down in Hawaii before visiting numerous sites in the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean.
After several stops in Canada, the crew made its way to Greenland for refueling before heading for Iceland, the UK, Norway and finally back home to Sweden, landing on
August 19th, 2006
The True Measure of Success
How does one measure the success of such an expansive expedition? Is the completion of the circumnavigation the end goal? Well, it was certainly a high point for Johan and crew who were met by hundreds of well wishers carrying large Welcome Home signs. Indeed, this is one measure of success.
Johan describes the arrival in his blog:
August 19, 2006
19th of August was a big day for the WFH team. But not only for us, it was also a very big day for our sponsors, relatives, family and girlfriends. More than 100 people were gathered at the homecoming event at Barkarby Airport and World Flyer was exclusively escorted by stFlyg AB (Diamond Scandinavia) from Vsters to Barkarby and I believe it was as breathtaking for us as it was for the people on the ground when we entered Barkarby airspace. We did a few fly bys before we landed runway 06 and entered the taxiway to the flying club. The goal line stripe was stretched and the audience was cheering loudly when we opened the canopy and stepped out from the aircraft after more than 5 months of traveling. What a feeling! Media was there to capture some great film and photos, but the first ones to run towards us were my mother and girlfriend.
What a memorable day, but certainly not the last wed read about the World Flyers historic journey. Another measure of success was the publicity that Johan and his two crew members generated wherever they stopped. Numerous publicity and speaking opportunities have come about since that remarkable day in August, 2006. In fact, Johan has lead numerous speaking engagements.
Almost immediately after completing the journey, he and several of his support staff met students who were hearing impaired in Sonderborg, Denmark, before heading off to the International Congress of Audiology conference in Innsbruck the week of September, 2006.
Since then, Johan has been extremely busy talking about the expedition and what it means to hearing impaired individuals. On September 27, 2006, he appeared on Swedish television to spread the word that people who are hearing impaired can achieve their goals through the use of improved hearing device technology.
In October, Johan was selected as the Stockholm Citizen of the Month, a great honor befitting of the WFH teams unprecedented efforts to get this project off the ground.
Earlier in 2007, Hammarstrm spoke at a major conference in Lidkping, 350 km south of Stockholm, sponsored by Swedens HRF, an organization for the hearing impaired.
HyVIS, an organization for hearing impaired working people (ages 17-65) was another important speaking event generated by Johans remarkable journey.
In February, Johan visited Hrselskoj in Uppsala, a regular meeting of hearing impaired youth. His blog entry for this event is one of his most touching:
February 5th, 2007
I have recognized the importance of meeting other hard of hearing people in order to feel that hearing loss is not something unusual. When I was young I resisted meeting other hard of hearing people as I was afraid of being considered as "unusual". When I think about it now I realize how much that cost in self confidence. It would have been so much better to be open about my hearing loss when I was I child and not rejected to meet other hard of hearing people. On February 5th I visited "Hrselskoj" in Uppsala which is a frequently arranged meeting for hard of hearing youths where they can meet and have a good time together. This evening was not an exception - we ate pizza and talked about World Flight for Hearing and it looked like all children loved it!
Johan Hammarstrm set out to prove that people who are hearing impaired can achieve great things, and by becoming the first individual with hearing loss to circumnavigate the globe, he accomplished his mission.
However, in the process, he increased awareness of hearing impairment and the technological advances that have taken place to address hearing loss. He did this in many countries around the world.
Finally, as Johan's blog entry of February 5th reveals, he has given hope to young people with hearing impairments, serving as both an inspiration and mentor. The World Flight for Hearing, and the many people who supported this unprecedented effort, have done us all a great service.