When four Able Flight scholarship winners arrived at Purdue University’s campus and airport in West Lafayette, Indiana in late May, they had just a few well-defined goals and a singular mission. They were there to meet their instructors, learn about their airplanes and immediately start flying because they had less than five weeks to go from novice students to licensed pilots. Then the rain came.
For five straight days northwestern Indiana was on the edge of the huge and damaging storms that devastated towns and rural areas in the Midwest. If it wasn’t rain it was winds and low ceilings that kept Eric Ingram, Kevin Crombie, Korel Cudmore and SPC Jermaine Strachan grounded. But with their flight instructors Aaron Michaels, Justin Lowe, Derek Stewart ,Greg Taylor, and ground school instructor Geoff Aschberger, they made the best use of their time by beginning their studies for the knowledge test (later they would all pass it on the same day).
Finally the weather cleared and the first flights began. Over the next weeks the pace quickened and it began to appear that they might all finish and go for their checkrides on schedule near the end of June. But soon, even more wind and rain, necessary time off to inspect airplanes, and a few small mechanical issues began to disrupt the new schedule. Once again, the students and instructors doubled their efforts, and during the last week of June Kevin Crombie of Virginia became the first to pass his checkride.
“There’s no doubt that the first ten days or so of the five week program were hard for all involved,” said Charles Stites, executive director of Able Flight. ” Everyone at Purdue was living the frustration every day, and I was home in NC watching the radar and wondering when they would get a break. But all along the way I was getting reassuring messages from Bernie Wulle, my chief contact at Purdue, and the person on site who runs the program. Bernie would be probably be too kind to admit that he wasn’t looking forward to my near daily calls, but he was constant in his belief that everything would work out, and when it counted, he and his team came through wonderfully.”
Wulle managed the program last year and again this year, and said of the effort by the students and instructors,” I think all the credit goes to the students and instructors for not letting anything get them down or stop them from completing their training. Purdue University and the Department of Aviation Technology have made every effort to attract, welcome and support the students and give them an opportunity to display their talents and skills. If the aviation industry is to advance to a higher level, it must embrace the abilities these young men and women possess.”
The two trainer aircraft for this year’s program were a Sky Arrow 600 LSA equipped with hand controls and provided by Philly Sport Pilot of Wilmington, Delaware, and a Flight Design CT provided by Peak Aviation Center of Colorado Springs. In advance of the student’s arrivals, instructors Wynn Grainger of Philly Sport Pilot and Chad Troxler of Peak Aviation ferried the planes from their home bases to Purdue and then checked out two Purdue instructors in each of the planes.
The Peak Aviation Center CT is the first in the U.S. to receive newly-available hand controls for Flight Design aircraft, but as the installation schedule was uncertain as the training was set to begin, all of the training for Crombie and Ingram (who both use wheelchairs) was conducted in the adapted Sky arrow. Cudmore who is deaf, and Strachan who is a wounded veteran still capable of flying an airplane with rudder pedals both earned their licenses in the CT.
In addition to the primary instructors, Wulle called on Robert “Mitch” Grundman to step in for stage check flights, a real
advantage and confidence builder for the students. And with the two airplanes accumulating a lot of hours, both had to be taken off line for maintenance and inspections, a task ably handled by Brian Strim. Near the end of the project the CT developed a quirky radio problem just as Strachan was about to complete his solo work, and Joshua D. Wright of Lafayette Avionics generously put the CT at the front of the line in his shop and fixed the glitch at no charge.
Said Stites, ” Even with planning that began almost as soon as the last year’s project was completed, and with arrangements for training aircraft, travel and everything else that could be anticipated taken care of months in advance, you still have to have students, instructors and staff that are flexible and have the attitude that nothing will prevent the Able Flight scholarship students from having every opportunity for success. And those are the people we had at Purdue. After our second year of doing this at Purdue we have a 100% success rate, and you just can’t do any better than that.”