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Last Updated: Sunday, 24 August, 2003, 09:51 GMT 10:51 UK
Blind pilot's Channel record
The plane piloted by Miles Hilton-Barber
The plane is adapted with speech output technology
A father of four has become the first blind person to fly across the English Channel in a microlight.

Miles Hilton-Barber, 54, achieved his ambition as part of an event to celebrate 100 years of powered flight.

He was among about 80 microlight pilots to take off from Headcorn Airfield in Kent on Saturday, in what was said to be the largest peacetime aerial crossing of the Channel.

He said: "It was absolutely amazing, it was a dream come true. We've flown the Channel and it was a wonderful, wonderful experience."

Aviation landmark
Wilbur and Orville Wright made aviation history on 17 December 1903
The Wright Flyer flew for 12 seconds, covering 120 feet
The tests took place on sands at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina
By 1905 the brothers' aircraft could stay aloft for over half an hour
Mr Hilton-Barber, who lives in Duffield, Derbyshire, piloted a specially adapted two-seater aircraft fitted with speech output technology to Abbeville in France.

He said: "There's nothing to stop me keeping in a line as I take off down a runway, staying on a bearing, knowing my altitude and airspeed."

Under Civil Aviation Authority rules, he was accompanied on the Channel crossing by pilot-in-command Storm Smith, 41, from Newcastle.

Mr Hilton-Smith, who works as a motivational development manager for the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB), plans to make aviation history again next year when he recreates the first flight from London and Sydney in 1917.

Co-pilot Storm Smith and Miles Hilton-Barber
Mr Hilton Barber plans to fly to Australia next year with his co-pilot

He hopes to raise 1.3m for the RNIB through the 35-day trip, on which he will again be accompanied by Mr Smith.

He said: "Apart from it being a great adventure for me, fulfilling one of my childhood dreams, it's also hopefully helping a lot of other people in Britain to have a better quality of life.

"It may also help them realise they can live their dreams despite being blind."

Mr Hilton-Barber lost his sight completely 20 years ago after suffering the genetic disorder retinitis pigmentosa.

First aircraft

Since then, he has climbed mountains, made attempts on the South Pole and holds the record lap speed for a blind person on the Malaysian Grand Prix circuit.

Another of the pilots on Saturday, 51-year-old Chris Buxton, was carrying a fragment of wing fabric from the Wright Brothers' Flyer, the first powered aircraft to fly.

The Wright Brothers' first flight was on 17 December, 1903, at Kitty Hawk in North Carolina.

Their trip - the first by a powered and manned aircraft - lasted just 12 seconds and covered no more than 120 feet (37 metres).

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