TANNI Grey-Thompson has already attained dizzying heights in her athletics career, but now the Paralympian aims to reach even further - by flying a plane.

The 35-year-old, who was made a Dame in the New Year's Honours, took to the skies yesterday at Durham Tees Valley Airport.

Dame Tanni, who lives in Redcar, east Cleveland, got behind the controls of a plane that has been adapted to train disabled people to fly.

The athlete, who is the patron of the British Disabled Flying Association (BDFA), was helping to launch the plane, which is owned by Cleveland Flying School.

The school is trying to raise funds to bring a second plane, donated by King Faisal of Jordan, to the North-East for use by the disabled.

Dame Tanni said: "I'd love to learn to fly, but it's a question of finding the time."

Dame Tanni who was born with spina bifida, became Britain's greatest Paralympian when she took her gold medal tally to 11 in Athens last year.

Adapting planes for disabled use involves converting foot pedals to hand controls, and, although the equipment only costs £500, fitting it to the plane costs a further £1,500.

Cleveland Flying School is the only centre in the North-East with adapted planes.

BDFA chairman Steve Derwin said: "It's a chicken and egg situation really. Flying schools don't think there's a need for this kind of service, as they've never been approached about it. That is because many disabled people wouldn't even consider it possible for them to fly a plane."

Dame Tanni said: "I think it's really wonderful. When I was growing up, there weren't many things I thought I couldn't do, despite my disability - but flying was probably one of them.

"But here is yet another barrier being broken down."