With these words, Wilbur Wright confirmed his plans a few minutes before he made the first public flight with a motorised aeroplane. “It’s the man who conquered the air!” A hundred years later, Stijn De Jaeghere is equally determined to realise his flight plans and now goes to extremes to reach the top in aerobatics.

Training at the top of the world

Stijn started his pilot training ten years ago in Wevelgem. He wanted to fly, but went further than most and focused on aerobatics. This spectacular sport is without doubt the art of precision. His trainers, Gerald Cooper and Pierre Varloteaux, are among the top international trainers in the world of aerobatics.

The flying nurse

Currently, Stijn is head of his own home nursing company. He combines his busy professional activity with many training sessions to make it as an aerobatics pilot. He insists on hitting the road almost daily to take care of patients. You could call him ‘the flying nurse’, both literally and figuratively speaking.

Physical transformation

Extreme sports often require extraordinary challenges on the part of the athlete. Every reduced pound of body weight means an improvement in the pilot’s performance. For 20 years, Stijn has been struggling with being overweight. Under professional guidance, his endless motivation and willpower resulted in a physical transformation. Stijn succeeded in reducing his body weight by half, from 170 kg to 85 kg.

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My story started a long time ago. I wasn’t brought up with flying, but I remember when I was 7 years old watching the pilots and aeroplanes at Kortrijk-Wevelgem airport. I thought at that time that I also wanted to be a pilot, but as a spectacles wearer it was not for me. So, I opted to become a policeman or a nurse... The years passed and in 2002, I graduated as a nurse. Immediately after my studies, I started my own company as a home nurse. I specialised as a nursing pain specialist, and as an emergency and intensive care nurse.

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The beginning of flight training

About ten years ago, I saw an interview on a TV program in which a private pilot was travelling with his family in his own plane. “What a blissful feeling that must be,” I thought. I was so impressed by the report that I contacted the control tower at Kortrijk-Wevelgem airport the very next day to get some information on pilot training. The man in the tower gave me the telephone number of an instructor who could explain things better. Being impatient, I immediately contacted this instructor. That same day, I took part in my very first flight and instantly, I caught the microbe and was infected by the flying bug.

Fight with the scales

As a child, I was not really fat, just a little chubby. I was never really bullied because of my weight, but it was a problem that had haunted me most of my life. I remember I weighed around 100 kg at the age of fifteen when I attempted my first diet. After a flying start of losing 10 kg, I returned to my old habits and the kilos crept back twofold. By the time I started my nursing studies, I weighed 115 kg. I finished my vibrant student life with a few failed diet attempts and a weight of 130 kg. After my studies, I decided to live by myself and from then on fast-food became a daily habit. The scales increased further and further...

My first real confrontation and a step toward aerobatics

Despite my lifelong battle against the kilos, I fortunately never experienced real physical problems. At the start of my flight training, I was confronted for the first time with my biggest problem: being overweight. Most training planes were too small for me and could not carry my weight. After several flying lessons, I asked my instructor if he wanted to make a loop-the-loop. During that flight, I was well and truly caught up in the flying bug and my flying goal immediately came to mind: I wanted to fly solo aerobatics as soon as possible. I literally flew through the flying lessons. Within 4 months, I obtained my private pilot license. Within the same year, I completed the 200 flight hours and held my solo aerobatics permit.

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Crash diets and gastric bypass

In order to continue evolving my passion for aerobatics, I had to change aircrafts. For a very long time, I dreamed of a plane of my own and 9 years ago, I finally took the step. In the United Kingdom, I saw a beautiful red-coloured Pitts Special for sale. I didn’t hesitate for a second and plundered my savings account to the last penny to buy my dream plane. However, there was one big problem: I weighed 170 kg and I could not get in the plane. For the second time, I was confronted with my weight problem. After a five-month crash diet, I lost 45 kg and was finally able to fly with my own plane. As the icing on a cake, I also met my wife at that time. I couldn’t believe my luck.

Downhill again

My flying luck, however, was short-lived. Less than 2 years after the purchase of my plane, I experienced a heavy financial setback within my company, which forced me to sell my plane. It was the start of a few heavy years, literally and figuratively. Soon enough, the scales returned to 150 - 160 kg. My weight became a bigger and bigger problem. In my job, too, I experienced problems with being overweight. Not so much physically, but rather the many hurtful and humiliating comments from people touched me deeply. This made me decide to put a stop to my weight gain through the medical world and I chose to undergo a gastric bypass. The kilos literally flew off. Without any effort, a few months after surgery, I weighed only 127 kg. For a good year, I was able to keep to this weight, but slowly the number of kilos crept up again.

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A new start

Three years after my financial setback, I was able to improve the situation of my home nurse company and I started to reignite my passion for aerobatics again. I flew in the intermediate competition with a Pitts S-2C, an even more powerful device than my red Pitts. After a positive result in the competition, I could look forward to taking the next step. My ambition lies in the unlimited aerobatics, the highest level in aerobatics. At the moment, I fly with an Extra 330SC. This state-of-the-art, High-Performance aerobatics aircraft was named “Best World Unlimited Single Seat Competitor”. The switch to the Extra 330SC was a crucial step in the realisation of my dream.

The final turning point

My regular flight coach is Gerald Cooper. For me, he has always been a great example in the world of aerobatics. So, he is a figure that I look up to enormously. It was Gerald, now also a good friend, who gave me the impetus for my final transformation. “Your flying technically speaking, is all good. You have the skills and style, but if you don’t do anything about being overweight, you should forget about your dream of unlimited aerobatics" he told me. I have to admit that indeed I was experiencing more and more physical hindrance from the flight training at that level. I almost weighed 140 kg again and after each flight, my shoulders were black and blue because I didn’t have enough space in my plane. The elevated G-forces made me tired after only 5 minutes of training. I felt that I had to do something. Together with Gerald, I started looking for a way to solve my battle with the scales once and for all. With a sinking heart, I contacted my former dietitian. In addition to the dietitian, I also called in the help of 2 professional sports coaches and a sports psychologist.

Apparently, this was the golden combination I needed to tackle my eternal fight. I went boxing three times a week and also met with my physiotherapist to do core stability exercises three times a week. At the same time, I used the cross-trainer almost every day. For the first time in my life, I enjoyed exercising and my diet did not feel like a diet. Without realizing it, I took up sport and kept an eye on my nutrition as a daily part of my life and I did not need the many former excuses (no time, no sense, too tired ...).

My new lifestyle paid off. This summer my weight dropped below 100 kg for the first time in 20 years!! This gave me a magical feeling. However, I did not see this as an end point, but rather as an intermediate step towards further evolution. At the European Advanced Aerobatic Championship, I was in fifth place after the first flight. Technically, it all went well for me. After four flights, I finished fourteenth overall and became the first Belgian to do so. A super result as a newcomer!

Half the weight

After my achievements of this summer, fortunately I did not stop. I kept on practising my new lifestyle. In the end, it brought me to the point where I am now: I have officially reduced my weight by half. I cannot believe it myself sometimes, but I lost half of my body weight!!! Many people ask me the question: how did it ever get so far that you weighed 170 kg? What went wrong? Why did it work this time and why did all previous diet attempts fail? To be honest: I do not have a clear answer to these questions. I try to see my struggle against the scales and my company setback as life experiences that have given me the opportunity to become stronger as a human being.

In addition to motivation and willpower, it is mainly the support of the people in my immediate circle and my trainers who have brought me this far. I therefore insist on personally thanking everyone. Thanks to my dear wife, Vinciane, and my son, Jack, who so often missed me because of the many training sessions. Thank you also for your unconditional support. Thanks also to my parents, family and friends who have always supported me. A big thank you to my trainers, Jurgen Haeck and Jelle Duthoit, my sports psychologist, Justine Loosveldt, dietitian, Gino Devriendt and flight coach, Pierre Varloteaux, to keep believing in me. A special thanks to my good friend and coach, Gerald Cooper, who, without realizing it, provided the start of my transformation.

Golden advice

Now, a whole new world opens up for me. However, I do not intend to pretend being an experience expert on a diet or sporting level, but I would like to conclude with one golden piece of advice: "motivation, willpower and the right guidance by professionals can make the impossible possible."

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"If you want to fly,
give up everything
that weighs you down."

HANGAR

Extra 330SC

The Extra 330SC, built by Extra Flugzeugbau in Germany, is a state-of-the-art High-Performance aerobatics-aeroplane. This type of aircraft was named “Best World Unlimited Single Seat Competitor” and became World Champion Aerobatic Aircraft in 2009, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.

  • Registratie: OO-SDJ
  • Bouwjaar: 2009
  • Capaciteit: 1 piloot
  • Wingspan: 7,5 meter
  • Lengte: 6,7 meter
  • Hoogte: 2,6 meter
  • Airframe: Steel tube fuselage with carbon fiber wing
  • Leeggewicht: 600 kg
  • Motor: Lycoming AEIO-580-B1A, 315 Pk, 6-cylinder
  • Maximum snelheid: 407 km/h
  • Maximum load factor: + / - 10 G
  • Roll Rate: 420°/sec

Diamond Da40- 180 star

The Diamond DA40 is a single-engine aircraft made by Austrian Diamond Aircraft Industries. It is a very comfortable machine that is made of composite material and can accommodate up to 4 people.

  • Registratie: D-EBDS
  • Bouwjaar: 2002
  • Capaciteit: 1 piloot en 3 passagiers
  • Wingspan: 11,9 meter
  • Lengte: 8,9 meter
  • Hoogte: 2,0 meter
  • Airframe: Composite
  • Leeggewicht: 795 kg
  • Motor: Lycoming IO-360-M1A ,180 Pk,4-cylinder
  • Kruissnelheid: 241 km/h
  • Maximum range: 1120 km

PARTNERS

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SPECIAL THANKS

Coaches: Gerald Cooper, Pierre Varloteaux
Physical trainers: Jurgen Haeck, Jelle duthoit, mental coach Justine Loosveldt
Dietitian: Gino Devriendt
Instructors: Dieter Defour, Dirk Decorte, Wim Soens
Photographers: Tom Brinckman, Rick De Smet, Peter Van De Voorde
Facility: Vliegclub Ursel, Saint-Yan Air’e Business
© Copyrights 2018 · Stijn De Jaeghere