Six brand-new pilots received their wings at a special ceremony honoring Able Flight graduates on July 30 at AirVenture.
Able Flight, a nonprofit organization that helps persons with disabilities learn to fly, has created 33 new pilots since its inception in 2006, Able Flight Executive Director Charles H. Stites said. “Our success rate is three times the national average,” owing to the quality of the instruction the student pilots receive, as well as the dedication and focus of the students themselves, he said.
Able Flight partners with Purdue University, which provides accelerating training, housing, and meals to most of the program’s participants. They trained in two Sky Arrow Light Sport Aircraft fitted with hand controls. Stites related that the local designated pilot examiner said Able Flight students are generally better prepared for their checkrides than the other private and sport pilot candidates he tests.
Receiving their wings were Dennis Atkins, who became a quadriplegic at age 14 after an accident on a trampoline; Young Choi, who contracted polio as a child in South Korea; and Warren Cleary, who had been a professional skydiving videographer before becoming paralyzed in an accident. Cleary arrived at Purdue with a third-class medical, and completed the knowledge test and private pilot checkride.
Also joining the ranks were Deirdre Dacey, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 16; Lt. Andrew Kinard, who lost both legs above the knee in an encounter with an improvised explosive device while on active duty in Iraq; and Stephany Glassing, who was injured in a car accident that left her paralyzed as a teenager. Glassing was one of the very first Able Flight scholarship recipients six years ago, but recurring health problems prevented her from learning to fly until 2013. Stites praised her determination in seeing through her dream to become a pilot.
“We salute all of you,” AOPA President Craig Fuller said at the awards ceremony. Fuller presented Kinard’s wings to the wounded veteran, saying, “I want to thank you for your service to your country and your passion and love of aviation.” Kinard is the first recipient of the AOPA/Able Flight scholarship. Aerobatic Hall of Fame inductee Patty Wagstaff presented wings to Dacey and Glassing.