Santa Paula Times

Vacher poses in front of an airplane on a visit to Santa Paula Airport. For more information or to become a sponsor, visit Vacher’s Web site at Photo by Brian D. Wilson

Vacher setting an example for charity by flying both poles

July 18, 2003
Santa Paula News
By Peggy Kelly Santa Paula TimesShe’s flying around the world to bring attention to an organization that allows the disabled to gain confidence by taking the controls of an airplane, and Polly Vacher is setting an example herself: when she returns to Birmingham, England, early next year, she will be the first person ever - ever! - to tour the world solo in a single-engine plane by the way of both the North and South poles.Polly was in Santa Paula recently - her second visit - to train with Rich Stowell, a noted pilot and teacher, and to take a few days off from her quest to raise money for Flying Scholarships for the Disabled.Vacher, as well as her husband, Peter, have been flying since 1994 and she has the crinkled gold-leaf flesh around her eyes - common to pilots - to prove it.Although she had taken up skydiving for charity in the 1980s - “My mother offered me the same money not to jump!” she said with a laugh - flying “was something I think I always wanted to do. . .”A retired music teacher, Vacher “feels very free up in the air. . .I think I should have been a bird. I find flying very challenging, physically and intellectually; you’re never in the same situation twice.”Vacher’s quest includes Santa Paula sponsors, giving credence to her comment that the “aviation community is very tight and really great; very humbling, very equal, encompasses a lot of things.”Her involvement in Flying Scholarships for the Disabled was a way to “put something into flying and get even more back,” and she has been in training for two years for this trip.The organization was founded in honor of the late Sir Douglas Bader, “an amazing chap” who had been a RAF pilot who broke both his legs in a World War II crash. He was retired from active duty but the need for pilots and Bader’s persistence was so great that he again was a RAF pilot. Later he was the CEO of Shell Aircraft and died in 1982.
The organization was founded in his memory and the purpose is “not necessarily to produce pilots,” but to help them overcome the challenge of learning to fly and help them “come to terms with their disability. . .they can do things,” said Vacher.Over 50 percent of the participants at an average of about 10 annually go on to earn a pilot’s license after 40 hours of initial training in groups of three in South Africa or the United States.Vacher said her last trip for the Flying Scholarships for the Disabled was flying around the world “in the more conventional way. . .this time it’s by the two poles and about 100 stops. It’s never been done before.”Flying a Piper Dakota, “I’m inviting people to put their name on my wing,” and join her other 1,400 sponsors.Seeing her off on her trip on May 6th was Prince Charles who watched Vacher’s distinctive orange and black plane - Vacher wears an orange jumpsuit and cap - take off with a military escort for what will be aviation history when she returns.She speaks to her husband every day and keeps in touch with their grown sons and is waiting for Peter to finish his restoration of a Battle of Britain Hurricane, a single engine, single seat classic.“I want to fly it,” said Vacher with a wide grin.