'Cockpit for Antoine'

Antoine is a courageous young Canadian suffering from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Each day was a struggle for Antoine, his parents Annie Gaudreau and Stephane, and his sister Beatrice as they completed what to us are simple daily tasks. As a family, they all worked together in managing daily living, trying to make life as close to normal as they possibly could. At the time, Antoine only had access to a simple metal frame wheelchair with a nylon seat…not the kind of equipment meant to sit in for hours at a time.
Originally the goal was to help the family by raising money to get Antoine an electric wheelchair…but once Hal had approached a few aviation companies; spoke of Antoine and his family, his love of aviation, and his passion for flight, something wonderful began to occur.
"What started out as an effort to provide Antoine with a customized wheelchair has transformed into something magical - for every single person and organization I have requested assistance from has said, "Yes." And that includes some very large - global - players in the aviation world."
Once the project began to roll, it became a juggernaught of aviation good will. After 300 man-hours of custom work by assorted specialist aviation companies; the end result, known as “Antoine’s Cockpit” was born; a scratch built, custom crafted electric powered wheelchair equipped with a 5 point aircraft harness, fully retracting straps on an authentic Boeing 787 Dreamliner Cockpit chair with a sheepskin liner. 5 speed, cutting edge articulated arms all driven by a joystick control. This was no ordinary wheelchair…
June 11, at 1100 hours, one of our Sierra Hotel Aeronautics trucks, loaded with its very special cargo, was met with representatives of AirBase Services, Zen Metal Technologies, Air Canada, Air Canada Foundation, The Department of National Defence, Bell Helicopter, Eventure, and Heli Drone Images, all gathered on the driveway in front of Antoine’s home. At that moment, Antoine still unaware of what was about to happen, came outside to greet a group of excited aviation personnel.
The chair was offloaded our truck, and 777 Capt Frederick Belanger of Air Canada then presented Antoine with a Air Canada Captains Hat, and appointed Antoine as an honorary pilot.
Our aviation world is a small yet passionate one…and yesterday we were reminded again, it is a loving family quick to take care of one of our own. Antoine’s passion for all things that fly was all we needed to include him in our family.
We want to thank from the bottom of our hearts, the amazing and selfless work from the following; Air Canada Foundation, Air Canada, Zen Metal Technologies, AirBase Services, Bell Helicopter, The Department of Defence, Jefferson Duplain-Laferriere (DND Canada Bagotville International Airshow 2017) CBC TV, and Radio Canada.
But most of all, we want to thank someone who has put a great deal of effort in giving credit to everyone else, the man who put all the pieces together and gave this project wings. We saw a lot of company reps, Logos, smiles and handshakes all surrounding a very happy young man named Antoine, but off to the side, and asking no credit at all, was the very person who had made it all possible Mr Hal Newman.
Take a bow Mr Newman!
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
The Sierra Hotel Aeronautics Team

'Cockpit for Antoine' puts disabled teen in pilot seat

Air Canada, the Canadian Armed Forces, Bell Helicopter among collaborators to build customized wheelchair

Michelle Ghoussoub · CBC News June 11, 2016

An unlikely group of companies, including Air Canada, the Canadian Armed Forces and Bell Helicopter, have teamed up to build a customized wheelchair for a teenage drone enthusiast. 

Fifteen-year-old Antoine Dupont, who has muscular dystrophy, has spent the past few years in a wheelchair.

But his limited mobility hasn't stopped him from pursuing his love of aviation. He is an avid drone pilot, flying the small crafts and shooting videos with his father Stéphane.

Hoping for a few decals

Two years ago, family friend Hal Newman learned that Antoine would be needing a new wheelchair and began contacting companies to see how they could get him an electric one that would give him more independence.

Knowing how much Antoine loved flying, he said he "jokingly wrote an email, with zero expectations" to a number of aviation companies. He was hoping for a few decals, but lightheartedly asked whether they had a spare pilot's seat.

Antoine's Dupont's father Stéphane said the most important thing for him is that his son be comfortable and independent. (Michelle Ghoussoub)

He could not have predicted what happened next.

"The phones just started ringing," Newman said.

He was contacted by companies that he hadn't emailed in the first place, wondering how they could get involved.

"Are you the guy working on the wheelchair project?" they asked.

In the end, Air Canada, Bell Helicopter and Sierra Hotel Aeronautics collaborated on the project, along with the Canadian Armed Forces in Bagotville Que. 

AirBase Services and Zen Metan Technologies designed the custom prototype, which features a real pilot seat.

They called the project "a cockpit for Antoine."

Newman said the experience "restored my faith in humanity."

"I'm of the belief that the vast majority of people wake up in the morning and want to do something good," he said, "and all you have to do is ask."

'Hard not to get emotional'

Frédérick Bélanger has worked as a pilot for Air Canada for 20 years. He had just stepped off a long-haul flight from Tokyo but wanted to be there when Antoine saw the chair for the first time.

Surrounded by a crowd and flashing cameras, Antoine at first hesitated when asked whether he wanted to try out his new chair.

The custom chair is a unique collaboration between Air Canada, AirBase Services, Zen Metan Technologies and the Canadian Armed Forces, among others. (Michelle Ghoussoub)

So Bélanger jumped in, demonstrating how to do up the five-point safety belt, the same that he would sit in on a Boeing 787.

The back of the chair is sheepskin, soft and breathable, and designed for pilots, who often remain seated for 12 to 13 hours.

"I've been flying airplanes for 20 years," said Bélanger, "but events like today, [they] really touch me."​

Claude Fournier, the vice president of sales and marketing at Airbase Services, was part of the team that designed the unique chair. He said that after presenting Antoine with his new chair after months of work, "it's hard not to get emotional."

"It was a no-brainer to get involved with this," he added.

Stéphane Dupont said that when he heard about how many people wanted to get involved to help his son, he was "really surprised."

He said that while he was excited that his son would get to spend his days in a real pilot's seat, what really mattered to him was his comfort.

Antoine would often complain of back pain after long days in his old chair. But as Bélanger noted, pilot chairs are designed for long hauls. 

"I've been behind Antoine for the past eight years pushing him," Dupont said. "Now, I'll be beside him."

Michelle Ghoussoub · CBC News June 11, 2016

Pictured:   Canadian professional NHL player P. K Subban celebrating alongside Antoine in his new cockpit



1 comment

  • Henry

    There should be some serious thought given to making this chair commercially available. Especially the seat. There are many thousands (or more) that are confined to chairs equally uncomfortable. And this shows that the technology is available to make things better for more than just one person.

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