January 23, 2015

Able Flight Receives Award

AF students & instructors 2014Able Flight has been selected as the 2014 recipient of the Flying Magazine Editors’ Choice Award to honor an aviation nonprofit.

In their announcement, the magazine wrote: “There is no shortage of organizations using general aviation to effect positive change in the world, and the many that do so on an everyday basis in places near and far serve as a continual testament to the power and generosity of this great community of fliers and flying enthusiasts. While there are countless aviation charities that deserve recognition, we are proud to award Flying‘s 2014 Editors’ Choice Award to Able Flight, an organization that helps disabled individuals pursue aviation training and in the process enjoy the life-changing challenges and fulfillment that come along with it.”

“We are honored to be selected to receive the Flying Magazine Editors’ Choice Award”, said Charles Stites of Able Flight. “There are a number of great aviation nonprofits doing outstanding work, and this award signifies that Able Flight  is recognized as not only fulfilling its mission of using the power of aviation to change lives, but  consistently doing so at the highest level. Those who deserve credit for this honor include our pilots who work so hard to prove their abilities, the flight instructors and our friends at  Purdue University who welcome and teach our pilots, and the sponsors and donors whose generous support make it all possible.”


To read more about the award, visit here.


New Able Flight Pilots Get Their Wings

Patty Wagstaff pins Sgt. Jason Gibson's Able Flight Wings.

Patty Wagstaff pins Sgt. Jason Gibson’s Able Flight Wings.

With special guests Patty Wagstaff, famed airshow pilot Alan Henley, and AOPA President Mark Baker there to do the honors,  four new Able Flight pilots received their wings at a July 29th ceremony at EAA AirVenture. Curtis Stanley, Jason Gibson, Ellen Howards and Tim Klemm were on stage in Boeing Plaza before a crowd of more than 100 friends and sponsors of Able Flight on a beautiful Oshkosh morning.

Also attending were Purdue flight instructors Nick Losande, Thomas Keiffer,  and Lucero Duran. In a surprise announcement, Duran and Paczolt were named Able Flight’s “Instructors of the Year” for 2014 with Duran’s award presented by Bernie Wulle and John Wensveen of Purdue University.

During the ceremony Ellen Howards was named the recipient of the AOPA/Able Flight Scholarship and her wings were pinned by AOPA President Mark Baker. Tim Klemm was selected to be the first recipient of the Shell Aviation/Able Flight Scholarship in honor of Alan Henely, and Henley was there to pin Tim’s wings. Selected as the 2014 recipient of the Bombardier/Able Flight Scholarship was Curtis Stanley, and there to pin his wings was Matt Brandon of Bombardier.

Each of the new pilots also received a free headset from Able Flight sponsor Sennheiser, and the headsets were presented by Chris Throndsen of Sennheiser.

Other special guests included Able Flight pilots Deirdre Dacey and Sean O’Donnell, and sponsors Tyson Weihs, Jason Miller and Angela Anderson of ForeFlight, Bob Stangerone of Embraer, and Jim Irwin and Desiree Czaplinski of Aircraft Spruce.

Able Flight Pilot Featured on CBS This Morning

Ryan Kelly was serving in  the Army in Iraq when an IED took his right leg below the knee.  During his recovery at Walter Reed he was visited by a pilot who used a prosthetic leg, and that was all the inspiration he needed to use aviation to rebuild his life.

He is now a Medevac pilot  flying an air ambulance helicopter in Texas. And with his Able Flight  scholarships, he has become a fixed wing Private Pilot and will soon have his commercial and multi-engine ratings.  CBS Morning News profiled Ryan in a feature on Memorial Day, 2014. Watch his amazing story of returning from a catastrophic injury to working to save the lives of others.

Able Flight has now helped seven other wounded veterans like Ryan become pilots, and three more wounded or disabled veterans are in training right now. If you want to help Able Flight help others like Ryan, please donate to our scholarship fund.

2014 Scholarships Awarded

It’s a record setting year for Able Flight with nine new scholarships awarded to date. Six of the recipients will soon begin their training at Purdue University’s Department of Aviation Technology, one has completed a career training course, and two others are upgrading their pilot certificates.

When they arrive at Purdue on May 20th, the Able Flight scholarship recipients will immediately begin flight and ground training programs leading to a pilot certificate. This year’s class includes wounded veterans Jason Gibson of Ohio who was injured in Afghanistan in 2012, losing both legs from the explosion of an IED,  and Chris Sullivan of Louisiana who was paralyzed by a sniper’s bullet during service in Iraq in 2005.

Also receiving scholarships are Ellen Howards of  Massachusetts who was born with a congenital spinal condition which over the years has required multiple surgeries now leaving her partially paralyzed, Navy veteran Curtis Stanley who lost his left arm due to an accident that occurred while he was in service, Daniel Clayton of Pennsylvania who was paralyzed due to injuries from an auto accident in 2011, and Tim Klemm of Illinois who was paralyzed due to an auto accident in 2003.

In addition, wounded veterans Ryan Kelly of Texas and Adam Kisielewski of Maryland have been awarded scholarships to transition to higher level pilot certificates. And with his Able Flight Career Training Scholarship, Tyrell Rhodes of Illinois recently completed training at Flight Safety International to earn certification as a Corporate Scheduler/Dispatcher. Kelly, Kisielewski and Rhodes are all previous recipients of an Able Flight Scholarship and are licensed pilots.

The Able Flight student pilots at Purdue will be trained by university graduate and undergraduate school instructors. Able Flight’s Charles Stites said, “This will be our fifth year partnering with Purdue to provide an outstanding flight training experience for our students. When they arrive there they’ll discover not only a welcoming and supportive atmosphere, but will quickly begin an intensive and demanding program designed to challenge them very day.”

The five-to-six week course also requires relocating three suitably-equipped aircraft to Purdue.  For this year’s training, Able Flight has rented adapted Sky Arrow LSAs from Hansen Air Group of Atlanta and Philly Sport Pilot of Philadelphia, and an adapted Flight Design CT from Peak Aviation Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Said Stites, “We are proud to take the funding received from our donors and sponsors and use that to not only change the lives of our students, but to support these small aviation businesses.”

Able Flight Receives Grant From Wounded Warrior Project

A. Kinard with Sky Arrow and tag low resAble Flight has received a grant in the amount of $45,000 from Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), a non-profit veteran service organization whose mission is to honor and empower Wounded Warriors. The grant will expand Able Flight’s ability to provide flight training and aviation career training scholarships to injured service members.

“We are honored that Able Flight was selected to receive funding from Wounded Warrior Project to provide life-changing opportunities for those who have served and sacrificed, ” said Charles Stites, executive director, Able Flight. “Over the past several years we have trained six wounded veterans to become licensed pilots, and provided aviation job training to another wounded veteran. This grant gives Able Flight the resources to offer five new scholarships for wounded veterans, and we look forward to making it possible for them to become pilots or train for a variety of careers in aviation.”

Veterans wounded in service since 9/11 can apply for one of the five new scholarships supported by this grant by visiting the Scholarships page at www.ableflight.org and downloading an application form. Applications will be accepted and reviewed beginning in early October, with scholarships being awarded on a rolling basis until the five scholarships supported by the Wounded Warrior Project grant are awarded.

“The WWP grant program allows us to support the good work and expertise of a broad spectrum of organizations that are dedicated to meeting the needs of injured service members,” said Steven Nardizzi, executive director, Wounded Warrior Project. “We are very proud of the collaboration and commitment that the grant program fosters to help ensure this generation of injured service members is the most successful and well-adjusted in our nation’s history.”

In this second year of operation, the WWP Grants Program continues to work with organizations that provide injured service members with unique, specialized programs and services, often in remote service areas. During two review cycles each year, WWP carefully selects the grant recipients, and to date has provided support to over 70 organizations nationwide.

It is estimated over 50,000 servicemen and women have been physically injured in recent military conflicts, another 320,000 have experienced a traumatic brain injury while on deployment, and as many as 400,000 additional service members live with the invisible wounds of war including combat-related stress, major depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Able Flight Pilots Earn Their Wings

Able Flight pilots Purdue 2013

(L-R) Warren Cleary, Dennis Akins, Deirdre Dacey, Lt. Andrew Kinard and Young Choi

They had six weeks of intensive flight and ground training and endured hot and sometimes rainy weather during their training at Purdue University.  From mid-May to July Dennis Akins, Young Choi, Warren Cleary, Deirdre Dacey and Lt. Andrew Kinard  flew an average of twice a day every day that weather allowed. They attended daily ground school classes and waited out aircraft maintenance delays, but now  their intensive training  has come  to a close and  Akins, Choi, Cleary, Dacey and Kinard have  all passed  their check rides to become newly licensed pilots.

The five 2013 students will receive their pilot’s wings during Able Flight’s annual ceremony on July 30th at 11AM at EAA AirVenture in Phillips Plaza .  Joining them to receive her wings will be Stephany Glassing of Georgia who completed her training earlier.

When training ended,  this year’s pilots had logged over 260 hours with the help of  instructors Tim Gleeson, Jared Kuhn, Nick Losande, Abe McCollough and Matt Paczolt. In addition, each student received more than 20 hours of ground training from their instructors along with their formal ground school class.

A special thanks to Able Flight pilot (Class of 2012) and current Purdue graduate student Wesley Major for serving as Able Flight’s volunteer program coordinator for 2013, and to Bernie Wulle, professor in the university’s Department of Aviation Technology for directing the program at Purdue. Wulle also taught this year’s daily ground school class.

Able Flight’s Charles Stites said,”Over the past four years we have sent 17 students to Purdue, and they have all become licensed pilots. You can’t argue with a 100% success rate, and that success is based on motivated students who refuse to let a physical disability become an obstacle, outstanding young instructors who see this as a great opportunity to teach people who are willing to give it their all to become a pilot, and to a university that believes in providing an equal opportunity for those who are willing to do the work it takes. And it’s due to the support of the companies who sponsor our program and the associations and individuals who donate. If you want to see what’s right with aviation today, you can begin by looking at Able Flight.”

Able Flight Pilots Honored At Annual Benefit Party

AF Pilots at 2013 benefitIt was the largest group of Able Flight pilots ever assembled, and April 20th was their night to be celebrated and honored at Able Flight’s annual benefit party.  From throughout the Eastern U.S.  twelve of Able Flight’s 28 pilots  traveled to Orlando where they were the guests of honor at an event at Fantasy of Flight that both recognized their success, and  raised funds for the scholarship program. Attending were Jessica Scharle. Jorge Urea, Jeremy Maddox, Tony Pizzifred, Wesley Major, Heather Schultz, Sean O’Donnell, Jason Jernigan, Kevin Crombie, Tyrell Rhodes, Matt Sponaugle and Stephany Glassing.

Some of the early arrivals were treated to a private tour and simulator time at SimCom’s Orlando facility, arranged by Able Flight supporter Jeffrey Goldberg and courtesy of SimCom.  Just prior to the party, guests were given an after-hours tour of many of  the historic aircraft in Kermit Week’s collection. Then, with two beautiful P-51s, an Albatross and a Sopwith Snipe decorating the hangar, the party began with dinner and introductions of the pilots and special guests followed by music from the Paul Thorn Band.

The benefit was made possible with the generous support of sponsors Sennheiser U.S.A, Embraer Aircraft and Signature Flight Support. The event sponsors underwrote all costs,  making it possible  for proceeds from P-51 at partydonations for seats and an auction to go directly to the scholarship fund. Signature Flight Support also served as the host FBO for the party at its Kissimmee location,  waiving ground charges and providing discounted fuel for arriving guests.

Guests included  Matt Brandon of Bombardier, David Armstrong of Embraer, David Dunlap, Chris Throndsen, Christain Pulm and Tim Mell of Sennheiser,  Patrick Sniffen of Signature Flight Support,  Katie Pribyl, Adam Smith and Stephany Keynon of AOPA,  Mike Suckow of Purdue University, Gene Schmidt of Schmidt Consulting, Bill Perrone Sr. and Bill Perrone, Jr. of Perrone Aerospace, John “Lites” Leenhouts, president of Sun ‘n Fun, Tom Bliss, publisher of AVweb, airshow greats Steve & Suzanne Oliver,  Andy Matthews of iFlightplanner.com, and Able Flight board members Steve Merritt and Julia Spicer.

A live auction included items donated  by Sennheiser, Perrone Aerospace, ForeFlight, Bombardier, Signature Flight Support, Sandia Aerospace, Dynon, Sam Lyons,  Kermit Weeks and Team Aerostars. A special thanks to Bill Campbell of Atlanta for bringing five Able Flight pilots to the event in his Cessna 421, and to Jeffrey Goldberg of Chicago for bringing Able Flight pilot Tyrell Rhodes in his TBM 850. And thanks to Gina Hubbard and Scott Dickie  and the rest of the Fantasy of Flight team and Tom Pittman of American Audio Visual for their help in making the evening a success. Most of all, thanks to everyone who came to honor our pilots and make it possible for others to join them in the freedom of flight.


2013 Flight Training Scholarships Awarded

When they arrive at Purdue University on May 19th, five new Able Flight scholarship recipients will immediately begin five weeks of intensive flight and ground training leading to a pilot certificate. This is the fourth year of the Able Flight/Purdue joint program to bring people with physical disabilities into aviation, and as with the first three years, the student pilots selected to train there share the common goal of  changing their lives by becoming a pilot.  Scholarship recipients this year pilots include a  Marine who lost both legs to an IED, a woman with multiple sclerosis, a man who had polio as a child, a young man injured in a skydiving accident and a man paralyzed in a trampoline accident as a teenager. All five now use wheelchairs and will train in Sky Arrow LSAs adapted with hand controls.

Andrew Kinard portrait

Andrew Kinard

Andrew Kinard chose the Marines when he graduated from the Naval Academy, and passed on a slot as a Marine aviator to choose the infantry instead. Only five weeks into his first deployment  in Iraq an IED cost both of his legs and led to 17 months of rehabilitation at Walter Reed Medical Center. Soon Andrew will graduate from Harvard with both law and business degrees. And after five weeks at Purdue,  Andrew will become an aviator. In his application he wrote, “Becoming a pilot will be the ultimate expression of my sense of adventure and my yearning for freedom. In the air, there are no limits!   With an impressive list of  educational and aeronautical accomplishments on the horizon, he says, “I have spent the last seven years trying to restore the man I used to be. I am now ready to become the man I ‘m meant to be.”

Deirdre Dacy

Deirdre Dacy


Deirdre Dacey of Massachusetts was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at 16.  Over the next ten years her MS progressed to the point where she had to begin using a wheelchair. Refusing to  be “held back”, Deirdre not only went on to complete college, but also earned a Master of Science Degree and graduated with honors. She is a Girl Scout Leader and works for a nonprofit that specializes in adoption, foster care and independent living. In her scholarship application Deirdre wrote of always wanting to learn to fly, and of her need to “make a difference in the world” and “to be known and remembered for something other than my disability”.

Young Choi

Young Choi

Young Choi of California had polio as a child in Korea; an experience that not only affected his ability to physically navigate through the country of his birth, but also shaped his view of himself. He recalls his early years in Korea as being very confining and  “difficult because of the country’s severe lack of focus on disability”, an outlook that changed dramatically when he moved to the United States at age 22. Later he became a U.S. citizen and is now the father of three and a software engineer for a very well-known company. Young’s goal is to change the way people view disabilities not just in the Asian community in the United States, but in Korea.  He wants to be an advocate “for those who have challenges and encourage them to achieve their own goals and push through their limitations”.

Warren Cleary

Warren Cleary has probably spent more hours in flight than many pilots. Those were hours quickly gaining altitude and more quickly returning to earth after jumping out of an airplane. The Georgia resident has been a professional skydiving videographer, an Accelerated Freefall Instructor and a FAA Senior Parachute Rigger. A member of the U.S. National Skydiving Team, Warren placed seventh in world competition in Dubai in 2011 and was training for the 2012 world meet when an accident caused his paralysis. All along he had planned to become a pilot, now  he has that opportunity thanks to his Able Flight scholarship.  In his application Warren wrote, “Being an active member in the spinal cord injury community as a Christopher Reeve Foundation Peer mentor, I could be a great example to others by showing them what can be accomplished in spite of a disability.”

Dennis Akins of Texas was only fourteen when he became paralyzed as the result of an accident on a trampoline.  He has spent more than three decades in a wheelchair and during that time he earned a degree from Texas A&M, became a father, and has had a long career as an engineer, now with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. That’s a long time to push back the dream of flying for the young boy who would “sit inside a cardboard box that was decorated with dials and switches, pretending I was a fighter pilot flying P-40s in China with the AVG”. His childhood aviation fantasy was fully revived in 2003 when a chance flight led him to becoming a member of the Civil Air Patrol where he now serves as Unit Commander and  Aerospace Education Officer.  At Purdue, the Sky Arrow will substitute for a P-40 when Dennis begins flight training.

Dennis Akins

Dennis Akins

The Able Flight student pilots will be trained by university graduate school instructors and will live in university housing located just minutes away from the school-owned towered airport  (KLAF).  Able Flight’s Charles Stites said, “When we look at applicants for training at Purdue we make sure they understand that this is not an easy program. In fact, it is just the opposite and that’s by design.  Able Flight pilots who train at Purdue follow a strict syllabus developed by the university and they receive double the minimum training hours required by the FAA.”

While in training the students study together and are mentored by their instructors, and this year they will have the advantage of  support and mentoring by two Able Flight pilots who previously trained at Purdue and are now enrolled in the university’s Department of Aviation Technology.  Kevin Crombie earned his license in 2011 and is now an undergraduate at Purdue, and Wesley Major earned his license in 2012 and is a graduate student at the university. Major will also serve as a volunteer program coordinator for Able Flight during this year’s training, with responsibility for coordinating training and aircraft maintenance schedules.

The five to six week course will require five instructors and two aircraft. Able Flight rents the Sky Arrows from Hansen Air Group of Atlanta and Philly Sport Pilot of Philadelphia, and a week before training begins the planes will be moved to Purdue for the duration of the training. Able Flight’s Stites said,” Not only does this program provide a life-changing experience for our students, but we use funding from our donors and sponsors to support small aviation businesses each year. It’s a perfect combination.”

Never Giving Up

Stephany Glassing portrait

Stephany Glassing

No one would have blamed Stephany Glassing for giving up on her childhood dream of becoming a pilot. When she was selected as one of Able Flight’s first two scholarship winners in 2006, no one could have predicted what she would have to endure over the next six years.

Her training began well and looked promising, but then came the first in a series of serious illnesses related to her spinal cord injury as a teenager. More than once she recovered and returned to flying, determined to make up for lost ground. She soloed, and then began cross-country work only to return to the hospital once again to fight off another life-threatening illness. But as she has done with every challenge in the decades since becoming paralyzed, Stephany never lost sight of her goal, and on Friday, November 16th, her dream came true.

Stephany’s journey to the moment when she first held her pilot certificate in her hands was never certain. In fact, she will freely admit to a life of great highs and deep lows. Photos of her as a child, standing on the legs that now do not support her, show her living the life of a teenager in the Florida sun. Blond hair, always a smile; that’s the Stephany before the night of the accident that left her paralyzed. Not yet 20 at the time, she made a choice to ride with a drunk driver and has now spent decades in a wheelchair. The use of her legs may be gone, but the smile is still there.

She raised a bright and beautiful daughter all on her own, and along the way she became a champion water skier. She is a graphic artist and painter, and now she has added licensed pilot to her remarkable list of achievements. But that  latest success was often in doubt as her body rebelled at her years in the chair. Time after time she was in the hospital battling deep and serious infections, and facing risky surgery to repair the almost truss-like metal bracing that stabilizes her back.

Sky Arrow in flight

Stephany Glassing and instructor Mitch Hansen

As each round of recovery and rehabilitation took its toll, the inevitable self doubt set in, but she never let herself cross the line into saying that it was no longer possible. And typical of people who choose to thank others first, Stephany praises those who continued to support and encourage her, “As much as I appreciate the congratulations on becoming a pilot and that they are so proud of me, I need them all to know that I did not do this single-handedly. This was a team effort.  An effort only accomplished with the love and support I have felt from so many. The friends who literally kept me alive through many days of just wanting to let go, the daughter who gave me a reason to keep going, and two of the greatest flight instructors I’ll ever meet! Without Mike Davidson and Mitch Hansen being a part of my journey I truly don’t know if I would have gotten through it. They believed in me and were more than patient in understanding what life was throwing my way. They were my CFIs, but also my friends.”

Another supporter along the way has been Jon Hansen, father of instructor Mitch and along with his twin brother Ron, a creator of Hansen Air Group. When Able Flight was founded in 2006 Jon  generously offered to help by providing time in his adapted Sky Arrow for the first two students. The other  pilot earned his license in June of 2007, but even as time passed Jon honored his promise to help Stephany complete her training. To Mike, Mitch, Jon, and everyone who believed in her, Stephany says, “Thanks to ALL who were involved and continue to stay involved with Able Flight. You may think that you are giving someone the opportunity to become a pilot but you are giving so much more. The freedom to be able to get in a plane now is the cherry on the top. Allowing a childhood dream to come to fruition and knowing I did it with many odds against me has given me the courage and strength to get through anything in the remainder of my journey.”

To watch Stephany in the Sky Arrow and hear her describe what flying means to her, visit the video section of Able Flight galleries and click on “Stephany’s Story”.

Wounded Veteran Earns Pilot’s License

Adam Kisielewski check rideMost pilots look at Adam Kisielewski and can’t help but wonder how they would deal with flying an airplane without an arm on their left side and with a prosthetic leg below the knee on their right. But Adam leaves the wondering to others and just goes about his life with the thoughtful and quiet determination he has shown since being critically injured in Iraq in August of 2005. Somehow he survived the blast that occurred when he attempted to pass though a door rigged with hidden explosives; a blast that took the life of a fellow Marine.

To say that his survival and recovery have been remarkable is to sell Adam short. With extraordinary battlefield emergency medicine and intensive post-injury rehabilitation, many wounded veterans have survived and recovered. It’s just that Adam is a special case. Undaunted by the magnitude of his injuries, he worked his way through rehab, declined the use of a prosthetic arm that would have to be attached at the shoulder, and found his own adaptations. The father of a young son can now often be seen riding his unmodified Harley, and has fulfilled a dream that began when he was a teenager. On April 19th, Adam become a licensed pilot.

With his Able Flight Scholarship Adam trained at  the busy Frederick, Maryland airport, mixing in with near constant helicopter and fixed wing traffic. And for the Marine who once served on the presidential security detail at nearby Camp David, the importance of  never losing situational awareness in the airspace around Washington, DC added another layer of complexity to his training.

Adam credits his instructors Dean Stickell, a retired Air Force test pilot, and Dave Hirschman, Senior Editor of AOPA PILOT Magazine with giving him the skills and confidence to work through the challenges of learning to fly using only one hand and adjusting to  the limited feedback provided by a prosthetic leg. As humble as he is in thanking them, Stickell and Hirschman are quick to praise his creativity in working around what others might see as limitations. The evidence of that came during his check ride; a check ride preceded by several months of training in a Flight Design CT.

Adam Kisielewski & Joe D'Aguair

Adam with CT owner Joe D'Aguair

Most Able Flight pilots now learn to fly in a joint Purdue University/Able Flight program in the spring of each year, but Adam needed to remain close to his Operation Second Chance office  to continue his work helping other wounded veterans. So Able Flight located a CT based at Northampton Aeronautics in Massachusetts, and with the assistance of flight school manager Rich MacIsaac and CT owner Joe D’ Aguair, arranged for the CT to “live” at Frederick during late winter/early spring so that Adam could fly an average of 3-5 times a week. That training paid off  with an unusually long student cross country to deliver the CT back to  its home where Adam would take his check ride to become Able Flight’s 20th licensed pilot to date.

For an indepth look at that experience, read Dave Hirschman’s report on Adam’s check ride.