Long-term Lagos resident Gerry Breen, who for over 30 years developed several aviation activities and classes at Lagos aerodrome, will be receiving the highest honour in microlight aviation in May.
The accolade, the BMAA Medal, will be attributed by the British Microlight Aircraft Association (BMAA) and aims to honour people with “long and distinguished services to microlighting”.
Gerry, 65, is regarded as the ‘godfather’ of microlight aviation and is credited with building the first microlight aircraft in 1976 and giving the sport its name two years later. He has over 20,000 hours of flying under his belt.
In a nutshell, a microlight is a very light aircraft, the maximum weight of which must not exceed 450 kgs, “including fuel and people.”
“It was a nice surprise,” said Gerry, who was informed last month that he would be receiving the honour.
Microlighting started as an evolution of hang gliders, which Gerry had already been flying for some time.
“I put an engine on which was not very successful, so I then modified the engine and managed to take off by running with it. Then I added wheels and a trike frame that became known as a Skytrike, which was the first microlight in the UK,” said Gerry.
His aviation career started at the tender age of 13 at the Bristol & Gloucester Gliding Club. By 16, he had already joined the Royal Air Force (RAF).
In 1976, he introduced powered hang glider flying to the UK and by 1978 he had doubled the world non-stop powered hang glider distance record previously held by an American (John Moody) by flying 202 miles from Tredegar in Wales to Norwich Airport.
He went on to become the first person to fly from London to Paris in the British Airways powered hang glider, which was the first Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) registered microlight in the UK and the first microlight flight to carry Royal Mail.
Gerry popularised the sport through his own aviation centre in the UK and went on to take part in many films and television documentaries, from flying as a stunt pilot to training pilots for a James Bond film.
He was featured in the ‘Iceland Breakthrough’ in the National Geographic magazine for flying a microlight across the Icelandic wasteland.
Gerry and his late great friend Kelvin Wilson were also the first people to fly hang gliders from the summit of Angel Falls, the world’s highest waterfall, in Venezuela.
In 1983, he was the personal instructor to His Royal Highness King Abdullah of Jordan and, a year later, he set up a microlight school in Germany where he met his late wife Manuela. In 1985, they both moved to the Algarve, where Gerry popularised microlighting.
Book in the works
All these and many other stories will be put to paper as Gerry is working on a book about his life.
“It includes the many achievements and accidents I had in pursuit of my dream to fly. Hopefully, it will be published later this year,” he told the Resident, adding that he is still deciding whether to self-publish the book.
By MICHAEL BRUXO