“To be blind is not miserable; not to be able to bear blindness, that is miserable.”
These words by the British writer John Milton, who published his literary masterpiece, Paradise Lost, 10 years after he had lost his sight, almost seem if they had been written to tell Sabrina’s courageous story.
Sabrina Papa is a young woman who has had retinal dystrophy since birth. When she was a child, Sabrina used to spend her days at her parents’ home in Salento listening to the sound of airplanes taking off from the nearby Lecce-Galatina military airport.
Sabrina soon realised that her dream was to fly. Not only as a passenger, but as a pilot. However, Italian law does not allow blind people to attend flying school, let alone obtain a pilot’s licence. But where there is a will, there is a way, and Sabrina is not someone who gives up easily.
When Sabrina moved to Rome to find someone who could help her, she flew as a passenger for the first time from Urbe airport on a two-seater Cessna 152 with a friend.
Whereas before flying was just a dream, now it became her priority. Meeting instructor Sergio Pizzichini marked a turning point. He saw training Sabrina as a challenge and her blindness merely as an obstacle that had to be overcome.
She embarked on an intensive programme of studying the theory, memorising the position of all the cockpit instruments, exercises, developing her reflexes and unprecedented communication between the instructor and student.
A system of voice commands and light touches on her shoulders established together with Pizzichini allowed Sabrina to train on board an ultralight Sky Arrow, but that was still not enough. Her determination was far stronger than her disability and, in a world that was advancing faster than any airplane, the possibilities were just waiting to be found.
Sabrina signed up with several Facebook groups, forged relationships, asked questions and finally found the association of blind pilots called Les mirauds volants based in Labège, near Toulouse.
Today, Sabrina lives in France and continues to fly thanks to a Sound Flyer device, a gyroscope linked with a GPS that gives her the necessary information through sound impulses.
Her dream is to fly with the Frecce Tricolori (Tricolour Arrows) and, as we know, for Sabrina, nothing is impossible.