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A Force To Be Reckoned with!

Joe Knighton, Senior Flight Instructor for Mareeba Flight Training Centre strongly believes that, “God gives us skills and abilities, and it is our duty to use those skills to help others.”

Growing up in England, Joe’s first flight was at the tender age of 14 as an Air Cadet. This led to his first solo flight at 18. He was all set to enter the Air Force, when—at just 19—Joe had a debilitating motorcycle accident, which left him paralysed. While in hospital he had been told repeatedly, “You are likely to be in that wheelchair for the rest of your life”. Yet Joe simply refused to be limited by his condition. After being immobilised for just three months, he used a wheelchair to get around for the next three months—and then started driving his car!

Now that he was on the path to recovery, he was determined to bring hope to others in Spinal Units, knowing that if they heard about how he had overcome his disability, they would realise that it was possible for them to do so too.

Just one short year after his accident Joe went to South Africa, where he gained his Private Pilot’s License through Flying Scholarships for Disabled People, a UK charity based dedicated to helping disabled people learn to fly light aircraft. He returned the following year as Flight Operations Manager. His cadetship paid for him to attain his Commercial Pilot’s License and Instrument Rating. During this time, Joe witnessed MAF in action in Africa, as they carried out medevacs for those injured while clearing land mines.

Then Joe met his wife Emma, took a break from flying, worked as a salesman and began to settle down. But Emma’s job as an anaesthetist for children’s open-heart surgery prompted Joe to once again feel that he needed to do something more worthwhile with his life. He resumed flying, re-qualified and became a flying instructor in the UK in 2011. This quickly led to the role of Chief Flying Instructor.

Emma and Joe had always wanted to be involved in humanitarian work, but didn’t think it would be possible now that they had young children. However, after some research they asked MAF if they could be of use to them. Joe said that MAF had been the logical choice and the only organisation he had spoken to. Joe’s skills were indeed needed, and in 2015 he started work at the newly developed Mareeba Training Centre, near Cairns in Queensland.

Today Joe specialises in multi-engine instrument rating training and instructor training at Mareeba, which enables him to carry out advanced training, internal upgrades, course development and mentoring junior staff. He is also a CASA approved flight examiner.

Photo: Joe Knighton, Senior Flight Instructor and Mark Leith, flight student on instrument rating course in more difficult weather.