SNOHOMISH, Wash. — Flying is something Shinji Maeda wanted to do since he was five years old.
On Wednesday, he went through a series of pre-flight checks at Harvey Field's Snohomish Flying Service. He ticked all the boxes: fuel, electronics, air traffic, but with Maeda, visibility will always be an issue.
"I'm a one-eyed pilot," he said.
Maeda is completely blind in his right eye.
It happened when he was in a motorcycle accident as a teenager in his native Japan. Doctors said Maeda might not survive, let alone see his dream of becoming a pilot take off.
"I was completely devastated," he said.
Japanese law doesn't allow a one-eyed man to become a pilot, but it is possible in the U.S. Maeda's father encouraged him come to America and learn to fly.
And that he did. Maeda earned his wings and took to the skies just like anyone else.
"Flying an airplane is like skiing," he said. "You just feel it with your body and use the other senses."
Maeda got his pilot license way back in 2005.
He isn't a student at Snohomish Flying Service. The man who some said would never fly is now in the cockpit teaching others to do just that.
"He's amazing," said student Dave Nelson. "If Shinji can get past the potential disaster in his life and get to where he is now and help other people, why can't I do that, too?"
Maeda said he also does motivational speaking for the non-profit Aero Zypangu that encourages disabled people to fly and turn a blind eye to others who would keep them grounded.
"I'm here. I'm alive. I'm flying an airplane," he said. "It's just amazing. I'm very thankful."
In 2020 Maeda plans to fly around the world in a single engine plane all by himself.
"When people says it's impossible, I add an apostrophe and say, 'I'm possible,' and just believe," Maeda said.