Personal Hearing System

(This article first appeared in the Resound Magazine which is for Cochlear Implant Users based in the North West.)

For those few people who don’t know by now I have taken up a new hobby.

Every Sunday while the weather is still good, I jump in the car and motor down to Stafford to spend the day on a disused airfield learning to glide.

Apart from the exercise and the suntan that I have now acquired I do actually enjoy flying and the sense of freedom when gliding aloft above the clouds is magnificent. However, this is not about my favourite pastime, it’s really about the biggest issue that most of us face in our lives and that is to be able to hear clearly especially when outside or at an event.

The reason it became an issue with me was that when in the glider I sit in the front and the instructor sits behind me.

Although things have changed considerably since I first went gliding as a cadet, nearly fifty years ago, (there is now a canopy and the gliders don’t fly like bricks), one problem still remains.

Whilst on the ground with the canopy closed I can hear the instructor very well, however once we are flying there is a 60 mph wind blowing around the cockpit, a considerable amount of background noise and an instruction like ‘I want you to turn to the right’, or ‘watch your speed’ needs to be acted on and there isn’t always time for ‘pardon can you repeat that’ especially when coming into land!

There is no intercom and headset in a glider as you might find in a light aeroplane so I have had to turn my mind to another way of solving the problem.

The first issue is that Hearing aids, and BAHA’s (Bone Anchored Hearing Aids) for that matter tend to amplify ALL sound so speech is drowned out by background noise. There are sometimes choices of program that can be set up on Cochlear Implant Processors and BAHA’s but they are really designed to minimize traffic noise or background chatter and not a 60 mph gale.

My thoughts turned to some sort of loop system, but how to fit one in the glider when I got in first time and remove it when I had had my flights; the aircraft of course belongs to the club and could not be permanently changed just for me.

The answer ideally would be a remote microphone that the instructor wore connected in some way to either my hearing aid or the BAHA.
A quick check of the mountain of documentation supplied with my BAHA showed that there was such a device, hurray!! Oh dear I have not been issued with one by the clinic as most people use a different device to connect to their mobile phone and you only get one device issued. A new one would cost over £200.

Back to the drawing board, or should I say GOOGLE!. A quick check on google turned up an intercom system used by motorbike riders which allows the rider to talk to the passenger with a boom microphone connected using a Blue Tooth Intercom system, in fact is was so good you could use it to talk to a group of riders! Yes! …. er No, I won’t be wearing a motorcycle helmet in the glider. ☹

In the end I decided that engineering a solution was the only way. I purchased a cheap set of ear defenders, bought the motorcycle intercom and by drilling, cutting and a large amount of gaffer tape have managed to construct what looks like a standard headset.

OK it’s a bit ‘Heath Robinson’, for those of you with long memories, various so called inventions were published as cartoons in the newspapers in the 40’s, but it works.

All of this turned my mind to what other deaf pilots did to overcome the problems.

I actually found a website called ‘’ and soon realised that this was not a new problem.

Their solutions varied, some put a mirror on the side of the canopy so the pupil could lipread the instructor, one person had a microphone on the end of a long cable that the instructor wore which he attached to a neck loop system and it was fastened inside the glider, but I couldn’t get permission to do that.

So all of this turned my attention to the wider issue of day to day communications. Here are just a couple of the solutions to help both in the workplace in other situations.

  1. Cochlear Wireless Mini Microphone.

    There are two versions of this device, one is for connecting to a smart phone, whereas the one shown is just a microphone. Both will connect to the BAHA or Cochlear implant processor using BlueTooth and include a noise reduction facility in the microphone. There is a setting on the Processor to connect to the microphone via blue tooth. The issue with this is that these devices are Manufacturer specific and what I was looking for was a more general device that would work with any type of hearing equipment.
  2. Bellman Domino Loop system

    This consists of two devices, the receiver for the Implant user and a separate remote microphone. The remote microphone, which has a filter on it to reduce background sounds, can either be placed on a desk for example in a meeting or can be worn by a presenter clipped to their clothes.

The receiver can be used with Hearing Aids, Cochlear implants or BAHA devices as it can use a neck loop for a telecoil connection or can use earphones if appropriate.

The receiver also has a built in microphone so can be used without the remote microphone if necessary.

So how does this help in a glider, well the Instructor wears the remote Microphone, either on a lanyard or clipped to his clothes (or both for the more safety conscious) and doesn’t need to do anything. This microphone is ‘paired up’ with the receiver, which I wear, which has a loop connection so my Hearing Aid and BAHA are on the ‘T’ setting.

That’s all there is to it and it is a less obtrusive solution than my headphones!

BGA Conference 2016

Several months ago, we were delighted to receive an invitation from the BGA to give a presentation on Deaf Pilots UK at the BGA Conference 2016.

So on Sat 27th Feb, Deaf Pilots UK went to the Nottingham Belfry, where the BGA Conference 2016 was being held.

During the day, the Deaf Pilots group had a look at the stalls present at the conference, and Joan took a moment to write her thoughts….

It was my first time at the conference. It seemed very crowded. It was hard to see all the exhibition stands.

It was nice to have a free conference T-shirt! Great to meet up with the other deaf pilots once more and to meet Byron. I thought that having an interpreter raised deaf awareness at the conference.

Amazed that one and a half gliders fitted into the exhibition space. I was quite taken by the self sustaining jet engine on the JS 1 Revelation. It was real!! I met Claudia Hill from Women Glide and she later sent me an email saying she was going to learn BSL!

Later in the day, John gave his presentation about Deaf Pilots UK to a very receptive crowd, followed by a lively question and answer session afterwards. In the near future, we hope to make the presentation available here so watch this space!

We are indebted to the following for making this possible:

John giving the presentation at the BGA conference

John speaking at the BGA conference with a slide about Henri Corderoy du Tiers behind him

Byron preparing to interpret for John Williams at the beginning of his Airspace presentation

Byron preparing to interpret John Williams at the beginning of his Airspace presentation

Dunstable October 2015

Deaf Pilots met up at London Gliding Club, Dunstable over the weekend 10th-11th October 2015.

On Saturday the sky was grey with a lot of low cloud (it didn’t help that Dunstable is 500 ft above sea level) so the club’s Robin 400 Tugs were busy towing gliders between the cloud gaps.

First to launch was Rodney and John but the cloud thickened up and we had to release at 1,000ft when we entered cloud.  🙁

Rodney & John

A little while later Joan and John had an another try and we couldn’t believe our luck when a lee wave cloud gap appeared over the new Dunstable bypass.  Nicola our tug pilot towed us to the upwind edge of the cloud and immediately after release we found some weak wave lift.  Thanks Nicola!  We spent about 25 minutes beating up and down the upwind edge of the cloud and eventually had to return to the club only to find that everyone had gone for lunch.  They missed the best part of the day!


After lunch Dave had a quick check flight and then went off to fly a ASK23 solo.  Rodney had his second flight and this time we succeeded in getting a bit higher.  Rodney practiced flying in the low tow position and recovering out from the lateral position.

Soon it was getting dark and time to put the gliders away in the hangar then we off we went for a pub dinner.

Sunday was much better with less cloud but visibility was still poor.

First to fly was Tim and John in the SF25C motor-glider whilst Tim tried some specially modified headsets to see if he could listen to the radio with his hearing aids.


David flew the K23 and Joan and Rodney flew the ASK 21s again.  We even managed to persuade Tim’s Dad to have a flight in a glider.

Many thanks to all that came and those at London Gliding Club that made us welcome.

Deaf pilots are hoping to meet up at another museum over the winter and visit a new flying club early in 2016.

RAF Hendon

Andrew reports on the recent deaf pilots visit to the RAF Museum at RAF Hendon.

The first Deaf Pilots group’s activity for 2015.  A dull and rainy day with gusty wind.  The perfect day for sightseeing! 

On February 7th we went to visit the RAF Museum at Hendon, just off the M1. Eight of us, John, Joan and David, Yoav, Rodney, Clare, Leo and myself, turned up at the entrance at almost same time. Furthest distance from home was Rodney who lives near Manchester. Well doneRodney!  Yoav was slightly later, having spent time looking for a free parking place.

With over 100 planes on display, we started with a visit to the Milestones of Flight, which covers the great achievements over the last 100 years from Bleriot to F-35 the VTOL jet fighter.  Clare’s son Leo, who is 7tried a flight simulator and he found it a very realistic!  Hanging from the ceiling is a tiny single seat plane, the Mew Gull, with a very little headroom and we presumed a very little knee room.  In 1939, it broke a record for an out and return flight to South Africa. This record was stood until recently.  Bomber Hall three awesome bombers: the all-black Lancaster and a metal-polished Flying Fortress and Cold War Vulcan are displayed with several fighters, helicopters and aero engines around them.

After an overpriced lunch we went over to the Battle of Britain Hall to look at planes which took part in the battle – Spitfire, Hurricane, Me109, Stuka, etc.  In other hall is an evil V-1 the flying bomb, of which thousands were fired at London.  In addition, a very large V-2 the rocket missile. Fortunately, only a few were used as it was developed at the end of war. We explored the inside of a huge flying boat, Sunderland, which was also very interesting.

Some of us went over to the World War One Hall to look at some wood and fabric biplanes. To improve her piloting skills, Joan tried her hands on a WW1 trainerShe found it was a bit like sitting in a bath tub with a broomstick!

We all enjoyed the visit very much.  Unfortunately, Yoav’s parking space ultimately cost him more than parking in the Museum car park! 

RAF Hendon

Flying the Extra 200

Deaf pilot Robert and his Instructor Adrian share their thoughts from flying an Extra 200…

As a deaf pilot I learned to fly in a side by side seating configuration (a Cessna 150). After the usual run of Robins and Pipers I decided to take the plunge 20 years ago and get a Yak 52. Tuition was relatively easy because the instructor’s position was in the back of the aircraft and a mirror could be positioned to allow me to see his face thereby readily allowing signals and gestures as well as a little bit of lip reading to assist me to understand what are now fairly unintelligible intercom systems. That was some 15 or 20 years ago. Recently I decided that the Yak had to go and decided to go for an Extra 200.

Whilst Extra 300’s are fairly common place there are only 4 or 5 Extra 200’s in the country – although they are very similar. My attempt to obtain tuition at one flying club ran onto some serious rocks as soon as they realised that I was deaf. No amount of reassurance could calm them and my PA received no less than 3 panic stricken calls from the club’s secretary finishing with me agreeing to the (obvious) admonition that the instructor would be in ultimate control of the aircraft at all times. I then flew with the club on 2 occasions but was unable to persuade them that with a little common sense and practicality the issue could be resolved.

Then I had a lucky break. I discovered that Adrian Willis of the British Aerobatic Academy had an Extra 200 no more than an hour’s drive or so away at Bourn airfield. Adrian and I sat down together and worked out the basic means of communication. Obviously, when my flying got a bit ropey (as it frequently does) he would just take control. Otherwise it was a question of practice. The whole thing has naturally taken longer without me being able to hear real time commentary on my flying. (Adrian will write and hold up notes, but this takes him a few seconds). Probably more fundamentally it just takes me time to transition between aircraft types anyway. That said, the process has been enormously valuable and I am now getting the hang at last of my new aircraft.

Robert next to his Extra 200

I sometimes think that my deafness heightens my enjoyment of flying. My job involves a lot of travel and often in noisy airport environments I end up being led about by colleagues who can hear. The feeling of independence and self reliance that flying brings is a major relief and gives me a new perspective. Thanks very much to Adrian for his patience in teaching me. I’m not there yet, but as with most flying it’s more about the journey than the destination!

Adrian (Robert’s Instructor) adds…

When Robert asked me to teach him how to fly the Extra I was naturally keen to help but did wonder if I could contribute very much. Teaching is a communication exercise and teaching flying is a more delicate communication balance than other subjects. On the one hand it is important to explain what is going wrong while being careful not to overload the pilot and to try and generally facilitate good performance . I feel a good teacher is somebody who can get the balance right so that the student learns as quickly as possible, does not break the aircraft and also enjoys the experience retaining enthusiasm for more training. In normal circumstances this is challenging as the balance is different for each student but with a deaf student I wondered if I was going to be able to contribute anything beyond being a safety pilot.

Robert explained that he had done it before and although probably a more lengthy process than normal, should be achievable. We agreed how to hand over and take over control of the aircraft, briefed rather more than usual and set off with open eyes. I learned a lot from the early sorties. When Robert was getting something wrong, I would demonstrate and Robert would see my point, and then tell me the point so that I could put my thumb up to confirm he had identified the correct issue. On only one occasion we had to land to brief an issue. Sometimes we would circle while I wrote points on paper for Robert to read, on some occasions I would perhaps add a control input unnecessarily because I was uncertain if I had explained something adequately. The training has taken a little longer than usual but this is partly due to Robert striving for perfection and only partly due to deafness.

Robert asked me to help him bring his aircraft back from the manufacturers in Germany. I was able to boost Roberts confidence by monitoring the radio but having ferried many Sukhois back and forth across Europe with poor radios I was only too aware that this was not really very important.

In summary I have learned a lot from this experience and see no reason at all why people should imagine being deaf is a handicap to VFR flying.

Robert with Instructor Adrian

Robert (R) with instructor Adrian (L)