MEET THE ABLE FLIGHT PILOTS
Scot Abrams of New York is a former Marine who followed the family career pathway by becoming a New York policemen. While serving as a motorcycle patrolman and directing traffic at a funeral, Scot was critically injured in an accident. After being airlifted to a hospital, it soon became apparent that he was partially paralyzed with much of the damage being on his left side. His twin brother Sean, also a New York policeman, joined many other police officers at the hospital in support of Scot.
After rehab, Scot was determined to stay active, so he continued to serve a a volunteer for his area fire department, and as often as possible, he took his young son to a nearby airport to watch planes come and go. Then he heard about Able Flight and applied for a scholarship. Scot was a member of the “Class of 2015”, and he trained with instructor Lucero Duran at Able Flight’s joint training program at Purdue University where he earned his pilot certificate. At Able Flight’s annual Wings Pinning ceremony at EAA AirVenture, Scot was honored as the 2015 recipient of the Jet Aviation/Able Flight Scholarship with his Able Flight Wings being pinned by Patty Wagstaff, a member of the Aviation Hall of Fame.
Dennis Akins of Texas was paralyzed in a gymnastics accident when he was fourteen, the accident leaving him a quadriplegic with very limited use of his upper arms and hands. Even so, Dennis not only completed high school, he earned two degrees at Texas A&M and later became an engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He is a father and a longtime member of the Civil Air Patrol where he has served as his unit’s Aerospace Education Officer. In 2013, he was awarded a scholarship to train at Able Flight’s program at Purdue University, and though his physical situation presented unique challenges, Dennis excelled at the program and earned his pilot certificate.
After his experience in becoming a pilot he said, “All my life I have dreamed of flying, but a spinal cord injury when I was fourteen kept me from ever fulfilling that dream. All that changed earlier this year when I received a scholarship from Able Flight. These people believed in me and supported me to a greater degree than I ever imagined. Six weeks of training this past summer and now I have achieved something I wasn’t sure was even possible. Now I have such a better grasp of the knowledge and some real experience to draw from when I’m trying to teach basic knowledge and skills to my cadets. This was a life altering experience for me and I’m already sharing the benefits of what I received with the next generation of aviators.”
Paul Brown comes from a flying family that traces its aviation roots to one of the most famous flights of all time, the crossing of the Atlantic by Charles Lindbergh. Paul’s grandfather was working as a line boy for Curtiss at Roosevelt Field on Long Island, NY when he was chosen to help prepare Lindbergh’s plane when it departed on the morning of the historic flight.
Following in the family tradition, Paul was well into his flight training in 2003 when he learned that he would need surgery, radiation and chemotherapy for a large tumor that put his life and his flying dreams on hold. After his recovery, he learned of our scholarship program and applied.
During 2008, Paul completed his training in the Minneapolis area in a Flight Design CT at LSA North, and within hours of passing his checkride, departed for a trip to Oklahoma where he then earned his tailwheel endorsement in a classic Porterfield (an LSA version). He has now completed one of his goals in flying by having his father as one of his first passengers. Reports from his flight school indicate that Paul was one of their most dedicated and hard working students, and he quickly progressed through the training to earn his certificate.
Stephen Carrier of Louisiana has not only become a pilot as a member of the Able Flight “Class of 2015”, he has earned his masters degree and now works helping others who face their own physical challenges. That’s a long journey back for someone who credits an accident that happened when he was a young man with changing his future by giving him a different perspective on how to live his life.
In May of 2014, he attended an Able Flight event in New Orleans a a member of a group representing a local rehabilitation hospital, and that night made the decision to apply for a scholarship. Just a year later, in May of 2015, Stephen traveled to Purdue where he was trained by instructor Chris Hobson. After earning his pilot certificate following his training at Purdue, Stephen was selected as the first recipient of the Tempest/Able Flight Scholarship. Representing Tempest by pinning Stephen’s Able Flight Wings at a ceremony at EAA AirVenture were John and Arlene Herman.
Daniel Clayton of Pennsylvania graduated from high school in 2002 and immediately began studying to become an electrician. After a four year apprenticeship he became a journeyman electrician, with the goal of someday earning a degree as an electrical engineer. Years later his best friend encouraged his to follow that dream just before the friend died while serving in the military. The loss of his friend was a wake up call for Daniel.
But as he was preparing to enter school, fate intervened in the form of an auto accident which left him paralyzed from the chest down. After rehabilitation, he began to look for a new challenge and through the mentoring of an Able Flight pilot he learned about the program and decided to apply for a scholarship. He was accepted, and after just two years from becoming paralyzed, he drove to Indiana where he would live on his own during the intensive training program. In July of 2013, Daniel passed his check ride to become a licensed pilot.
Warren Cleary of Georgia was a member of the U. S. Parachute Team and was training for the 2012 World Meet when he became paralyzed as the result of an accident. The son of a private pilot who had spent years around airplanes now saw this change in his life as an opportunity; the opportunity to become a pilot. Having learned of Able Flight while being treated in the spinal rehabilitation facility at Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Warren was selected for a 2013 Able Flight Scholarship and trained at Purdue where he earned his Sport Pilot certificate. Since he had already qualified for a 3rd class medical before arriving for training, he also earned his Private Pilot Certificate while at Purdue.
Warren has served as a Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation Peer Mentor, and is now employed as a peer mentor at Shepherd Center. He says, “The Able Flight program is a life changing endeavor. I can’t even express the freedom and independence I feel every time I go to the airport, hop in a plane, and fly loved ones around the sky. It is such an accomplishment and boost in confidence when completed and a gift I will cherish forever.”
Young Choi was a child in his native South Korea when he got polio, a disease that had already been eradicated in most countries. His parents knew that facing a life of paralysis in a wheelchair, Young would never have the opportunities in Korea that he would have in the United States, so they came to California where Young would complete high school and college, become a U.S. citizen and later raise a family while working in information technology for a major online auction business.
Following his lifelong fascination with flying, Young always looked for opportunities to get in the air, and in 2013 he was awarded an Able Flight Scholarship. Along with four classmates, he trained for five weeks at Purdue University where he earned his pilot certificate. Of his experience in becoming a pilot, Young said, ” It was amazing! It was a total life-changing experience and I am able to fly solo now. I really appreciate all the effort and support Able Flight provided for my great achievement.”
Jessica Cox didn’t let being born without arms keep her from meeting the challenge of earning a pilot certificate. The Able Flight Scholarship winner passed her checkride Friday October 10th, 2008 after several months of training with instructor Parrish Traweek in his Ercoupe 415C. With its unique control system, the Ercoupe proved to be the right airplane for her to fly using only her feet (she does not use prosthetic arms).
Of her experience in becoming a pilot, Jessica said, “I highly encourage people with disabilities to consider flying. It not only empowers you but also helps others realize that people with disabilities are adept at attaining privileges that a small percentage of society takes part in. It helps reverse the stereotype that people with disabilities are powerless into the belief that they are powerful and capable of setting high goals and achieving them. What is most incredible about Able Flight is the relentless faith and support not only from the board but also from the other pilots who have succeeded in the program. The camaraderie is exceptional. Thank you Able Flight for helping me make history as the first licensed pilot to fly with only her feet!”
Kevin Crombie once attempted to fly by tying a rope to his wheelchair, throwing the rope over a high barn rafter and then tying the other end to the rear of a lawn tractor. When his friend put the tractor in gear and drove off, up went Kevin. It’s a story his mom likes to tell because it says a lot about the young man who was paralyzed by the effects of a childhood virus. Kevin has come a long way from that day in the barn, and in June 2011, he became a licensed pilot.
Kevin grew up with a father who flew for a living until he left that career to become a police officer. But before his dad left flying, Kevin had his first flights, flights that left him longing to become a pilot. During the Able Flight/Purdue University joint flight training program in 2011, Kevin was the first of the four students to complete training and pass his check ride. He moved to Indiana to live full time, and was accepted as a transfer student at Purdue where we went on to finish his undergraduate degree and start work on his masters. In 2014 Kevin was hired by the FAA to work on their commercial space oversight program and now lives in Washington, D.C.
Korel Cudmore has a long list of goals. She can already place a check mark beside graduate high school at the top of her class and swim with dolphins, and now she can ad “become a pilot” to her list of accomplishments. Born deaf, Korel “learned at a very young age that if I wanted something in life, then I had to fight for it”, and that’s an attitude that has served her well in endeavors others might have viewed as unrealistic for someone who can’t hear.
She’s been a cheerleader and was chosen as captain of her squad, and she an avid ballroom dancer. For activities that seem to depend so much on the ability to discern sound, Korel has found a solution of her own. And so it was when she learned to fly at Purdue University in Summer 2011. With her excellent lip reading skills, clever use of hand signals and written communication, she excelled in both flight and ground school training, becoming the fifth woman to earn a license with an Able Flight Scholarship.
Deirdre Dacey of Massachusetts was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at age 16 and by the time she was in college, she had to begin using a wheelchair. She earned a degree from UMass and a graduate degree from Emmanuel College in Boston and began a career working to help others. But as a child, Deirdre had longed to become a pilot, a dream she had thought was dashed by the effects of MS. In 2013 she was awarded an Able Flight Scholarship and trained at Purdue University. It was a challenging and intensive experience and in early July she passed her checkride to earn her Sport Pilot Certificate.
In a ceremony at EAA AirVenture later that month, Deidre’s Able Flight wings were pinned by Patty Wagstaff, member of the National Aviation Hall of Fame. Of her experience in becoming a pilot Deirdre said, “Able Flight has changed my life. I always wanted to fly but was told it would never happen. Able Flight took me out of that box and told me to go fly and be free. Even though it was completely new to me and I had had no former experience, everyone was supportive and positive and certain I would be able to do this…and I did! I will never be able to say, “Thank You!” enough!”
Robert Freund is a former Air Force and airline pilot who had logged more than 10,000 hours when he became paralyzed due to a water skiing accident in May of 2005. The man who had built a career in aviation was now forced to look for another way to support his young family, and after his rehabilitation, Robert returned to school and is now enrolled in a graduate school program. Before his injury, he had planned to take his young son for flights in a small plane, but after the loss of his ability to fly, the thought was so difficult to bear that he refused to even look up when a plane passed overhead. That is until he heard about Able Flight, and signed his application form on New Year’s Day of 2008.
He was awarded an Able Flight “Return To Flight Scholarship” , and just a few months later, Robert “Sig” Freund trained with Matt Hansen of Hansen Air Group. He immediately and easily adapted to the special controls on the Sky Arrow, and is now flying again. Shortly after returning to aviation, Sig was once again carrying a passenger, this time, his wife Jan.
Sgt. Jason Gibson of Ohio was serving in Afghanistan in 2012 when he knelt down on an IED while providing cover for the troops under his command. The explosion cost Jason both legs well above his knees, and after many surgeries and months of rehabilitation, Jason became very active in cycling and other sporting events.
In early 2014 he was awarded a full ride Able Flight Scholarship and traveled to Purdue University for six weeks of intensive flight and ground training. In 2014, and with his full-ride Able Flight scholarship, Jason became a licensed pilot. His Able Flight Wings were pinned by Aviation Hall of Fame member Patty Wagstaff during a ceremony at EAA AirVenture, and late in 2014 Jason and his wife Kara welcomed their daughter Quinn, their first child into their family.
Stephany Glassing is a woman who has always welcomed a challenge. With more than two decades behind her since an automobile accident left her paralyzed as a teenager, Stephany has sought to challenge herself, and by succeeding, to set an example for others who must face the effects of catastrophic injury or illness. She began by earning an education and working to support herself, has served as a peer counselor at Shepherd Center, and became a world-class athlete in the sport of water skiing as a “sit skier”. But Stephany is quick to say that her greatest achievement has been to raise a bright and hard-working daughter who is now a college student.
According to Stephany, “After being interviewed for the Able Flight Scholarship all I could think about was flying! I’ve known that I’ve always wanted to learn how to fly, but the reality of how much I wanted this didn’t hit me until I had the opportunity to go up and feel the experience first hand! Throughout my journey, I’ve been able to look back and see stepping stones of events unfold in my life, not always understanding things in the present, but knowing that the mystery would unfold someday. Able Flight is allowing me to still fulfill dreams after being in a chair for 22 years!”
Randy Green now lives in Idaho, but grew up in Missouri. Born without hands or feet, Randy could have been pushed into what have been considered the usual pathways for someone with such significant physical challenges. But Randy’s goals have always been to live his life as if he has no disabilities, and fortunately he was born into a family that supported his wish in every way. And that included a father who bought an Ercoupe in which his two sons would learn to fly.
Not only did Randy become a Private Pilot, he earned his instrument rating, his multi-engine rating, and he became a flight instructor and a commercial pilot. That led to a job flying a twin Cessna for a company in Missouri. Then he applied for an aviation career training scholarship from Able Flight, and in early 2015, he earned his ATP Rating, the highest pilot certificate. Now, after moving to Idaho with his wife and two young daughters, Randy is flying for a company in the oil industry. Randy was honored in July 2015 as the first recipient of the ForeFlight/Able Flight Scholarship.
Brandy Hofstetter was only 17 months-old when she was paralyzed in a car crash, and that accident and the trauma to her young body could have defined her life. But she never let that happen. She’s ambitious and driven to live a full life; no matter the challenges she may face. And now that includes having mastered the physical challenge of learning to fly an airplane with hand controls. In 2010 she began her training at Philly Sport Pilot in the adapted Sky Arrow 600 LSA and passed her check ride after only 34 flight hours.
When she passed her check ride in early January of 2011, she also became the fourth woman to earn a pilot certificate with an Able Flight Scholarship. To celebrate her remarkable achievement, the day after her flight test she took her mother and a friend on flights as her first passengers.
Ellen Howards of Massachusetts was born with spina bifida occulta, which caused severe scoliosis in adolescence, requiring surgery. She went on to live an active life, going to college, traveling, and working abroad until her condition deteriorated and required multiple surgeries, which have left her partially paralyzed (for two decades). She uses crutches, and sometimes a wheelchair. Ellen serves as an adjunct college professor at a Boston area college.
In 2014 Ellen was selected to receive an Able Flight Scholarship, and earned her pilot certificate after training at Able Flight’s annual program at Purdue University’s Department of Aviation Technology. She has been honored as the recipient of the AOPA/Able Flight Scholarship for 2014.
Eric Ingram loves the study of physics, wheelchair rugby, Jiu-Jitsu, and he loves flying. His passion for wheelchair rugby and Jiu-Jitsu come from his highly competitive nature, and it’s likely his interest in physics and aviation were passed down from a grandfather with a fifty-year career in aeronautical engineering, both at NASA and the famed Lockheed Skunk Works.
Eric has used a wheelchair since soon after he was born with a rare genetic disorder. Even with a strong academic career underway as a physics student at Old Dominion University, he still made time to co-found a very successful wheelchair rugby league with close friend and fellow Able Flight pilot Kevin Crombie . When Ingram discovered that Crombie has been selected for an Able Flight Scholarship, he also applied and was selected to attend training at Purdue. In June of 2011 he passed his check ride to become a licensed pilot.
Jason Jernigan was born deaf, a significant challenge for anyone who wants to become a pilot. Flight training for a person who is deaf is not the same as for people with a variety of other physical disabilities that affect the use of arms or legs. But the young man from Florida pursued his dream and applied for an Able Flight Scholarship.
As the second person who is deaf to receive a scholarship from Able Flight, Jason trained at Purdue University in 2012. To accommodate his needs, a side-by-side training aircraft was used to make it easier for him to communicate with his instructor. And with the use of light gun signals from the control tower to assist with communication, Jason completed his training and earned his pilot certificate. Later he also completed college and earned a degree in criminal justice.
Jacob Jeter comes from a family of pilots. His grandfather flew B-17s in World War II, and his dad Jim served 20 years in the Navy as an A-4 Skyhawk pilot before a career flying for Southwest Airlines. When his dad was stationed in Hawaii at Pearl Harbor, four year-old Jacob had his first flight with his father in a sailplane, and it wasn’t long before he planned on following in the family tradition by becoming a pilot; a plan that changed when he became paralyzed in a diving accident. The accident caused an injury to his spine that left Jake classified as a quadriplegic, but with use of his arms, wrists and hands.
In his application, Jacob wrote: “This scholarship would give me a chance again to succeed at something I cherish so much in life. I can’t tell you how much I want that feeling again.” Jake’s wish was granted when he began training at Hansen Air Group of Kennesaw, GA in May of 2008, soloing only a week after he started, and finishing his training and earning his pilot certificate in an astounding three weeks, the shortest timeline of any scholarship winner to date. In 2011 Jake graduated from law school at Auburn University in Alabama and now works as an attorney for a firm in Montgomery, AL. Jake and his father are currently building an adapted airplane they can fly together.
Brad Jones became paralyzed in an automobile accident in June of 2006, and since then has been working to rebuild his life through regular therapy, and with the support of family and friends. For Brad, a major milestone was achieved when he graduated with an engineering degree from Georgia Southern University. But there was one dream he thought was lost after his accident. Having deferred his goal of learning to fly until he had paid for college, Brad had given up his dream of becoming a pilot until a staff member at Shepherd Center told him about Able Flight.
Of being awarded his Able Flight scholarship, Brad said: “Being in a chair instantaneously makes everyday life and events challenging. The challenge of learning to fly will be a difficult one, but upon successfully completing the training, will bring a renewed sense that anything is possible, no matter what other challenges life might have for me in the future.”
In June of 2007 Brad became the first Able Flight Scholarship recipient to earn a pilot certificate, and in July of 2008, along with Sean O’Donnell, he was a pilot in the 1000-mile, seven-city Ability Barnstorming Tour that traveled from Atlanta to Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
Ryan Kelly was a Staff Sergeant in the Army Reserves in July of 2003 in Ramadi, Iraq when he lost his right leg below the knee in an IED attack. After being awarded a Bronze Star with Valor Device, this young man who had previously dreamed of becoming a helicopter pilot faced days filled with rehab and doubts about his future. Then he learned that even with a prosthetic leg, it was possible to qualify for civilian helicopter flight training.
He was accepted at Embry Riddle University in Arizona where he would not only graduate cum laude, but would earn his certificate as a helicopter pilot. He followed that by becoming a helicopter instructor, and with his Able Flight scholarship has now earned his fixed wing license. He also plans to become an instructor in airplanes with a goal of teaching others with disabilities how to fly. Ryan was the first Able Flight Scholarship winner to be trained at Philly Sport Pilot, a new training operation established by Able Flight graduate Sean O’Donnell of Philadelphia, and the first wounded veteran scholarship winner to earn a license. Ryan’s scholarship was funded through the generous support of the East Cooper Pilot’s Association of Mt. Pleasant, SC in honor of their friend Colonel Woody Faison. Ryan is now flying a medical rescue helicopter in Texas, and with a second Able flight Scholarship, Ryan has earned both his fixed wing Private Pilot certificate and an Instrument rating.
Sgt. Adam Kisielewski was serving in the Marines when he was critically injured. It was only a month and two days after Adam’s deployment to Iraq began when his squad was given the assignment of clearing a school of suspected insurgents. The blast cost Adam his left arm at the shoulder and his right leg below his knee, and it cost the life of his fellow Marine, Lieutenant James “Cat” Cathey, mortally wounded as the two men were on a room to room search. The actions of his squad, an immediate evacuation in a Humvee to a field hospital, and the superior emergency care he received gave him the opportunity to live. From Iraq he was airlifted to Germany, and then, in five days, Adam was back “home”, with home being Bethesda Naval Hospital for seven weeks, and then Walter Reed for eleven months of intense rehabilitation for his catastrophic injuries.
With the help of instructors Dave Hirschman (Senior Editor of AOPA PILOT Magazine), and former Air Force Colonel, Vietnam vet and F-16 test pilot, Dean Stickell, Adam earned his pilot certificate in 2012 in a Flight Design CT. And though the Flight design had been adapted with special hand controls, Adam completed his training using by operating only the standard controls using just his right arm. In 2015, with a second award from Able Flight, Adam became a Private Pilot and was honored as the recipient of the AOPA/Able Flight Scholarship.
Andrew Kinard is a 2005 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who was given a slot to train as a Marine aviator, but passed on that opportunity to lead troops in Iraq. Five weeks into his first deployment in 2006, he was on a routine foot patrol when he was directly over an IED that was detonated by remote control. The explosion cost Andrew both legs above the knee and began a year and a half of inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation. He served as an intern at the Pentagon and as an aid in a senator’s office before entering Harvard where by the end of 2013, he will have completed work for joint degrees in law and business.
In 2013 Andrew was awarded an Able Flight Scholarship and earned his pilot certificate during five weeks of intensive training at Able Flight’s program at Purdue University. Of his experience at Purdue he says, “As a recent Able Flight Scholarship recipient, I wholeheartedly endorse all aspects of this program. If you are looking for a life-changing challenge, then apply. If you want to help change someone’s life for the better, then consider giving. The great thing about Able Flight is that its results are tangible, measurable, and indisputable: a select number of scholarship recipients each year will become licensed pilots. If we can do this, we can do anything!”
Tim Klemm of Illinois became a quadriplegic as a result of an auto accident, and the road back from that night was a long and difficult one. But with multiple surgeries and long periods of rehabilitation, Tim continued to make progress. Even as he faced his own challenges, Tim sought ways to help others through creating a rehabilitation program. Then he discovered Able Flight, and his dream of becoming a pilot was re-kindled.
After being awarded an Able Flight Scholarship, Tim trained at Purdue with the Class of 2014 and earned his pilot certificate. In a ceremony at EAA AirVenture he was honored as the first recipient of the Shell Aviation/Able Flight Scholarship.
Rob Laurent was serving as a Tank Armor Crewman when he was severely injured during an IED ambush near Samarra, Iraq on Christmas Eve, 2004. Evacuated first to Germany and then to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Rob lost an eye and suffered a partially amputated left hand as the result of the explosion. Now medically retired from the Army, he credits his unusually short stay at Walter Reed to the excellent care he received there. Rob was encouraged to apply for an Able Flight scholarship by an outreach officer of the Wounded Warrior Project. In 2008 he graduated from the Criminal Justice program at Texas State University, and has earned a master’s degree. Ron now works as a contractor on military projects.
Rob completed his flight training in Florida in May of 2009, passing his check ride to become a licensed pilot. Now, he looks forward to being able to “show others in similar situations that through hard work and opportunity we can do things that we, or others, thought we could never do.”
Jeremy Maddox passed his check ride on Thursday, March 5th 2009, one year from the day when he mailed his application for an Able Flight Scholarship. And when Designated Pilot Examiner Ben Methvin, Jr. signed the required documents, the Georgia resident became Able Flight’s tenth scholarship winner to earn a pilot certificate. Jeremy, who uses a wheelchair due to a spinal cord injury, and whose scholarship was supported by a grant from the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, trained in an adapted Sky Arrow 600 with instructor Matt Hansen of Hansen Air Group in Kennesaw, Georgia just northeast of Atlanta. The 27-year-old quickly adapted to the unique hand controls on the Sky Arrow, soloing after only 11 hours, and earning his license with a total of 37 hours in his logbook.
With his pilot certificate in hand, and looking ahead to flights with friends and family, Jeremy thanked those who made it possible for him to have this “great opportunity”. He said, “Able Flight enabled me to achieve this goal, broaden my horizons, and create some life-long friendships through the process.”
Wesley Major was in college when he became paralyzed due to an accident. With strong support from his family he was able to finish school, and with mentoring and a push from Able Flight pilot Sean O’Donnell Wesley applied for a flight training scholarship from Able Flight. That decision became a life-changing turning point for him, and in 2012 he traveled to Purdue for training where he earned his pilot certificate.
Realizing that he now wanted a career in aviation, he was accepted into Purdue’s graduate school and earned his Masters degree in May of 2015. He has now been accepted into the university’s Ph.D program, and for three years has also served as Able Flight’s volunteer program coordinator at Purdue with the responsibility of mentoring new students when they arrive and coordinating training and maintenance schedules during the annual flight training program. In 2013, he was awarded the Seidel Award, recognizing his contributions as Able Flight’s volunteer of the year.
Tony Pizzifred of California was serving a military police officer in the Air Force when, in March of 2004 an an IED cost him his lower left leg. Only 19 at the time, he convinced the Air Force that after rehab he could return to duty, and becoming the first Air Force veteran to do so after an amputation, he served for another six years including deployments to Iraq and Africa.
After leaving the Air Force in 2009, Tony settled in Florida where he began a civilian career working with the Air Force’s space program, and he began to learn to fly, picking back up where he had begun with lessons as a teenager. With help from his Able Flight Scholarship, Tony completed his training and earned his pilot certificate in May of 2012.
Sean Colin O’Donnell of Philadelphia was a high school senior when a driver pulled in front of his motorcycle, causing a collision that left him paralyzed. But the 17 year-old astounded his doctors and family by demanding that his rehabilitation period be cut short and that he be allowed to return to high school almost immediately. He graduated on time with his high school class, and went on to earn a degree from Villanova University. He served as the Director of Distance Education at Villanova where he has established a nationally-recognized, award-winning distance-learning program, and now works as a key member of a nonprofit. In his application essay, Sean wrote: “I don’t see the scholarship as the gift of flight; rather, I see it as the gift of opportunity: an opportunity to finally answer the call of a lifelong obsession…”
Sean participated in Able Flight’s special Oshkosh training project in July of 2007, working with instructor Kate Bernard. Passing his check ride on the opening day of AirVenture, Sean became Able Flight’s second licensed pilot. Later in 2007 he purchased an adapted Sky Arrow 600 LSA and opened Philly Sport Pilot, a flight training operation in the Philadelphia area. In 2008, he and fellow Able Flight pilot Brad Jones were the pilots of the Ability Barnstorming Tour which covered seven cities in a week with an arrival in AeroShell Square on the opening day of AirVenture 2008. Later, training in his own plane, Sean earned his Private Pilot certificate, and he now serves as an Advisory Board Member for Able Flight.
Devon Radloff of Wisconsin hadn’t even finished high school when he applied for an Able Flight Scholarship. The young man who has dealt with Cerebral Palsy all of his life loves all things aviation, and that passion showed in his scholarship application. He was awarded a scholarship, and only a few days after the end of his senior year, he traveled to Indiana to begin training.
As a member of the Able Flight Class of 2012 he was in a new environment and in a demanding program designed to challenge every student. And he met that challenge when he passed his check ride to become a licensed pilot in July of that year.
Tyrell Rhodes of Illinois was born with Cerebral Palsy, a condition that may have affected his ability to do certain things that required physical strength or great endurance, but it never affected his desire to become a pilot. As the son of a single mom who serves as a Master Sgt. in the Air Force, Tyrell was constantly around airplanes. He studied them, and he studied the history of the Tuskeegee Airmen, the famed African-American P-51 pilots of WWII.
Learning of their successes inspired Tyrell to overcome his own challenges to become a pilot, and in 2012, just a day after his high school graduation, he traveled to Purdue University to take part in Able Flight’s joint training program with the university’s Department of Aviation Technology. In July of that year he passed his check ride to become a licensed pilot, and in a ceremony at EAA AirVenture he was honored when Matt Brandon of Bombardier pinned his Able Flight Wings as a recipient of the Bombardier/Able Flight Scholarship.
John Robinson of North Carolina followed his service in the Navy by beginning a career as a law enforcement officer in the federal prison system. While driving home from a training session he had an auto accident that resulted in him becoming a quadriplegic. For the independent young man it was not only a devastating physical blow, but an emotional one as well. Instead of being on his own, he was forced to move into his mother’s home as he learned how to deal with his new life.
But John was determined to make the best of what he had been dealt, and not only earned his masters degree, he taught special education students for a number of years. In 2015 he was awarded a flight training scholarship and earned his pilot certificate as a member of Able Flight’s “Class of 2015” at Purdue. At a ceremony at EAA AirVenture, John was honored as the 2015 recipient of the Shell Aviation/Able Flight Scholarship.
Tyler Ryan was a senior in high school when on October 9, 2006, he was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident. Determined to graduate on time with his class, he soon continued his studies and received his high school diploma in June of 2007. Later that year he applied for an Able Flight Scholarship and was selected as the first recipient of the Jet Aviation Scholarship. He received his award at a special ceremony held at Jet Aviations’s facility in Teterboro, New Jersey.
In May of 2008, after completing his freshman year of college, Tyler traveled to Philadelphia where he lived on his own for the first time while training at Philly Sport Pilot, the flight training operation created by Able Flight scholarship winner Sean O’Donnell. Just a few weeks after he arrived, and with his mother in town for a visit, Tyler soloed in the Sky Arrow. With only a little over a month of flight training, he passed his check ride to become Able Flight’s youngest scholarship recipient to date to earn a pilot certificate. After his flight training Tyler returned to New York where he is enrolled in an aerospace training program, with a goal of becoming an air traffic controller.
Jessica Scharle was born with a condition that fused nearly every joint in her body into almost total immobility. That meant that Jessica Scharle would never have the luxury of an easy pathway to achieving her goals. But even as a very young child in North Carolina, she began to display a will and resolve that soon had her parents wondering if the dire predictions of doctors might be wrong after all. Now, after teaching herself how to navigate her way through life, she has once again proven that her disability is no match for her determination. On May 31st 2008, Jessica Scharle earned the distinction of becoming the first female Able Flight Scholarship winner to complete training and earn a Sport Pilot certificate.
She says that, “To get a pilot certificate, it takes almost every resource the body and mind has to offer: sight, smell, hearing, touch, muscle memory, muscle power, multitasking, working efficiently, quick thinking, faith in one’s abilities, keeping cool under pressure, focus, physical as well as mental endurance, research skills, math skills, organization skills, communication skills, situational awareness, willingness to take on the large responsibility of operating an aircraft, thinking ahead as well as monitoring the present and. . . I could go on and on…and the cool thing is many of these new skills are transferable to life in general.” In 2011, Jessica studied to become a ground school instructor and passed the exam qualifying her to teach others for the knowledge requirements of leaning to fly. Later, Jessica received an Able Flight career Training Scholarship and has become a licensed airline dispatcher and works for a major U.S. airline based in Dallas.
Steven Scott of California grew up on a dairy farm just south of the Canadian border, and on bus rides home from school, he would sometimes see a yellow biplane over farm fields along the road. Steven felt that the pilot was flying just for him, and he loved loved everything that had to do with flying, including building models. Later, he spent some time in the Civil Air Patrol, and when he was old enough, he took his first flight lessons in a Taylorcraft.
With his studies for a technical degree behind him, and a young family to help support, lessons had to be put on hold. But after success working in the solar industry, and with two patents to his name, Steven was at the point in his life when things like flying lessons become possible when he was paralyzed in an auto accident. Just a few years after the accident, once he had worked his way through rehab and even designed his own adapted van, Steven applied for and was awarded an Able Flight Scholarship. In 2012, Steven trained at Purdue and became a licensed pilot.
Heather Schultz sustained a C5 spinal cord injury in a diving accident in 2006. After nearly drowning in the accident, she faced years of physical therapy and has defied the predictions of doctors who had told her she would never walk again. In 2010 she was selected to participate in Able Flight’s first joint training project with the Department of Aviation Technology at Purdue University. Heather trained there during the summer with university instructors while living in university housing, earning her Sport Pilot Certificate and helping prove the value of the program with Purdue.
The training at Purdue marked Heather’s first real travel on her own since her injury, and was soon followed by a trip to EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh where she received her Able Flight Wings in a special ceremony. Heather’s training was made possible through her selection as the 2010 recipient of the “Jet Aviation Scholarship”.
In 2011, along with Sean O’Donnell, Heather created Freedom Flight 2011, a successful program to help make it possible for wounded veterans to become pilots through Able Flight scholarships.
Chris Spaur is a 21 year-old Californian with muscular dystrophy. He’s one of triplets, and shares the condition with a sister. Coming from a family of pilots, Chris wanted to follow in his mother Susan’s footsteps. Susan had been a pilot for American Eagle before leaving airline flying to raise the triplets. His uncle, also a pilot, had urged Chris to pursue learning to fly, and Chris applied for a scholarship and was selected to take part in Able Flight’s 2010 training project with Purdue Universtiy’s Department of Aviation Technology.There he earned his Sport Pilot Certificate in just over four weeks. Now he has plans to continue on to a Private Pilot Certificate.
Chris was selected by Able Flight as the recipient of Able Flight’s “Bombardier Scholarship” for 2010, and at EAA AirVenture 2010, Matt Brandon of Bombardier was on hand to honor Chris and take part in a ceremony in which Chris received his Able Flight Wings from his mother Susan. In 2011, and on his own initiative, Chris traveled east and continued his training at Sean O’Donnell’s Philly Sport Pilot where he earned his Private Pilot certificate.
Matt Sponaugle of West Virgina became a paraplegic due to injuries from a skiing accident when he was a teenager. The 2004 graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan works as an IT professional, and in 2012 traveled to Purdue University to train to become a pilot. At the time Matt had approximately ten hours of flight time, but none in an adapted aircraft. While at Purdue he trained in an adapted Sky Arrow 600.
Matt excelled in his training at Purdue and after passing his check ride to earn his certificate, he was awarded his Able Flight Wings during a ceremony at EAA AirVenture, and had the honor of having air show legend Michael Goulian pin his wings.
Curtis Stanley of Arizona was serving in the Navy when he was critically injured in an accident. After spending a year immobilized in a body cast, Curtis faced life with the knowledge that he would never use his left arm again, and three years after the accident he made the difficult decision to have it amputated. The decision was all the more difficult as he thought it could put an end to a childhood dream of becoming a pilot.
But in 2014 he was awarded an Able Flight Scholarship and trained at Purdue University with instructor Nick Losande. Curtis was selected as the Bombardier/Able Flight Scholarship recipient for 2014, and Matt Brandon of Bombardier was there to do the honors when Curtis received his pilot’s wings in a ceremony at EAA AirVenture. After earning his pilot certificate he was awarded an Aviation Career Scholarship from Able Flight, and in 2015 he earned his certification as an flight dispatcher and is now working for an airline based in the midwest.
SPC Jermaine Strachan was wounded twice in Iraq while serving with the 10th Mountain Division. The two Purple Hearts he received signified his country’s recognition of his service and sacrifice, but they also foretold the end of his military career. And for a soldier who had enlisted right out of high school and planned a full career in the Army until retirement, that was a huge setback. Not only had he wanted to stay in the Army, he’d been hoping for the opportunity to enter training as a helicopter pilot. With his combat injuries, both of those dreams died.
As he worked his way through rehab at Walter Reed he served as an intern with the “Paws For Purple Hearts” program, helping to train service dogs for wounded vets. It was at Walter Reed that he learned of Able Flight and quickly applied, hoping to revive his dream of learning to fly. Jermaine was awarded a scholarship and soon left to take part in the intensive Able Flight/Purdue flight training program, and in July of 2011, earned his pilot’s certificate. With the world of aviation opening to him, and with new friends and contacts in the flying community, Jermaine is eagerly exploring continued education opportunities that will allow him to make aviation his career.
Sgt. Chris Sullivan of Louisiana was serving in the Army in May of 2005 and was on a patrol in Iraq when a sniper shot him through his spine. In that instant, Chris became a quadriplegic. In those first few minutes medics worked hard to save his life. But from that point on, Chris took over the hard work. He did the hard work of rehab, and he did the even harder work of believing that no matter what faced him, he could meet the challenge.
He and his wife are raising a family, and for the kid who enlisted right out of high school, he has now gone to college. And, Chris has now met the challenge of becoming a pilot. Chris trained at Able Flight’s program at Purdue University in the Class of 2014 where he earned his pilot certificate. During his training he faced a very serious medical situation and needed emergency treatment. Then he needed to return home to Louisiana for specialized care. But, even after his classmates had all finished and left Purdue, Chris came back, and within a week he had finished training and passed his check ride.
Raymart Tinio of California faced the real challenge of learning to fly as a person who is deaf. Since he was a child he had not just dreamed of becoming a pilot, he had planned on going beyond the first license to have a career in aviation. And though there were the rare few people who encouraged him, for the most part, Raymart was more often told what he could not do instead of what he could. That was just the challenge he needed.
In 2015, he was awarded an Able Flight Scholarship and trained with instructor James Shawn at Able Flight’s program at Purdue University. Using their own special aviation-oriented “sign language” and clever digital tools combined with coordination with the control tower for the use of old fashioned light gun signals, Raymart earned his pilot certificate in early July, and later that month was honored in a ceremony at EAA Airventure as the 2015 recipient of the Bombardier/Able Flight Scholarship. Pinning Raymart’s Able Flight Wings at the ceremony was Matt Brandon of Bombardier. Raymart is currently enrolled in an aviation degree program at a college in California.
Jorge Urrea was paralyzed in a motor vehicle accident in his native Columbia in 1992, and along with his family, the young architect moved to the United States to seek more advanced rehabilitative care and employment opportunities than existed at that time for people with disabilities in Columbia. The Georgia resident is well known for his hundreds of hours of volunteer service at Atlanta’s Shepherd Center, where he assists families of patients by designing modifications to their homes to better serve those with paralysis.
Having dreamed of becoming a pilot since his childhood, Jorge was not aware of the possibility for a paraplegic to earn a license until a therapist at Shepherd Center told him about Able Flight’s unique flight training scholarships. He quickly applied and was granted a scholarship in 2007. He began his training later that year, flying with instructors Mike Davidson, Matt Hansen and Mitch Hansen. In February of 2008, Jorge became Able Flight’s third licensed pilot, saying, “If you fight for your dreams no matter how long, those dreams can become a reality.”
Mallory “Mal” Zackery was working as a district manager in Alabama in October of 2007 when a robber shot him as Zackery was making a night deposit. Paralyzed from the wound, the Georgia native returned home where he received rehabilitation care at Shepherd Center in Atlanta. It was there that he heard about Able Flight and applied for a full scholarship. He began training with Matt Hansen of Hansen Air Group in Spring 2008, and soloed on April 30th.
He calls flying “the complete expression of mobility in its truest form”, and that he has “a desire to rise again, to do all the things I never thought were possible. Learning how to fly an airplane will prove to me, and others, that this is not the end, that I don’t simply have to be ‘that person in a wheelchair’…that I can continue to live and learn, to grow and mature.”
Mal’s scholarship was supported through a generous donation from the TBM Owner Pilots Association Foundation. On July 13, 2009 he passed his checkride to become the 12th scholarship winner to earn his pilot certificate, and now hopes to enroll in an air traffic control training program.