Werner Nel thought his flying career had come to an abrupt end after a serious motorbike accident in 2009 in which he lost his left leg from above the knee. Instead of accepting his fate he Werner became more determined to achieve his childhood dream of flying aerobatics.
Werner grew up around aircraft, his father was a pilot with South African Airways and also the owner and chief flying instructor at Pretoria Flying school. Tragically before Werner started his flight training his father passed away in an aircraft accident while flying in the Congo. At the age of seventeen Werner started his training completing his private pilot’s licence (PPL) in 2007 he immediately started working towards his commercial pilots licence (CPL).
Werner’s progress on his CPL was halted abruptly on the 7th October 2009, while out riding his motorcycle, another one of Werner’s loves, he had a very serious accident. His left leg was severely damaged and had to be amputated. While in hospital Werner made the decision to get back in the air as soon as he could, this determination to fly kept him going through the tough times as he learnt to deal with his new circumstances.
A very good friend brought Werner a Teddy Bear while he was in intensive care, no one at the time had an idea of how important that little bear would become. “Flying Bear” a non-profit organization inspired by the teddy bear was born. Werner's dream to assist young amputees to live a happy and successful life becoming anything they want to be became a reality.
Werner resumed his CPL training as soon as he was fitted with a prosthetic leg, finding an instructor willing to train an amputee proved to be a bit of a challenge, Jason Alexander was the man that finally got him back in the air.
When Werner completed his CPL and instructors rating he hit the wall that most young comm pilots do, not enough hours to be employed and no prospect of gaining hours without finding a flying job. Fortunately Werner was given a lifeline first by Jannie Loutzies from Loutzavia and later by Dave Naude from Light Sport Aviation who both gave him a job as a Grade 3 instructor. Werner’s determination to progress saw him obtaining ratings on many aircraft and he never turned down the opportunity to fly no matter what and where.
The dream to fly aerobatics never faded in fact it became more of an obsession and Werner decided to research aircraft and see what would fit him the best. After lots of investigation it became clear that the best option to start his aerobatic career would be the Russian Yak 52, being a nose wheel aircraft with hand operated brakes this machine fit the bill beautifully. Werner acquired a third share in a Yak 52 and soon after started training with the help of Neville Ferreira, Gary Gleeson and Bertus du Preez.
Being so driven Werner decided to challenge himself by entering the National Aerobatics Championships in 2016 and progressed from Graduate to Sportsman Class at the Nationals. The Aerobatics bug had well and truly bitten and Werner started looking around for a thoroughbred aerobatic machine, Neville Ferreira heard about a Zlin 50 that was up for sale and Werner pounced on it.
Werner completely stripped the Zlin rebuilding it from the undercarriage up making sure that it was perfect. Before Werner could even think of flying the machine he had to get a taildragger rating, which is difficult feat for most able-bodied pilots. Gary Whitecross form Air Play Aviation stepped in and gave Werner the opportunity in his Lombada touring motor glider. Gary had to admit that Werner did better than most other pilots on the taildragger.
Werner armed with a Taildragger rating approached Johan Lock from War Birds at Wonderboom Airport to obtain a rating on the Atlas Angel which is used mainly for dropping skydivers. Werner now fly’s for the Atlas trust as an active skydive pilot in Witbank and Klerksdorp.
Werner has now set his sights on making it onto the airshow as the first amputee pilot to perform aerobatic displays and in the process gain publicity for “The Flying Bear” initiative, and hopefully help others to rise above their circumstances and achieve greatness.