March 18, 2014

Six New Pilots To Be Honored At AirVenture

Wesley Major portrait

Wesley Major

The heat was record breaking, and the days of intensive training were long, but six Able Flight scholarship winners who trained at Purdue University passed their check rides and are now licensed pilots. They arrived in West Lafayette, Indiana in late May and soon were in the air and the classroom working towards their Sport Pilot certificates. Earning their licenses were Wesley Major of Delaware, Tyrell Rhodes of Illinois, Jason Jernigan of Florida, Matt Sponaugle of West Virginia, Devon Radloff of Wisconsin and Steven Scott of California.

Tyrell Rhodes portrait

Tyrell Rhodes

As with all of Able Flight’s scholarship winners, this year’s class of students face a variety of physical challenges. Jernigan is the second student who is deaf who has trained under Able Flight’s program at Purdue. Both Radloff and Rhodes have cerebral palsy, and Scott, Majors and Sponaugle use wheelchairs due to spinal cord injuries as a result of accidents.

Three of this year’s students had graduations just before or during their training, including Majors who  earned a degree from the University of Delaware, and Rhodes and Radloff who recently graduated from high school.

This was Able Flight’s largest class to date in the third year of the joint training program with Purdue’s Department of Aviation Technology, and that meant more instructors and more planes were required. Instructors were Derek Stewart, Justin Lowe, Edwin Richardson, Garret Goodwin, Boaz Allyn-Feuer and George Schnur. The students learned to fly in two adapted Sky Arrow 600 LSAs and a FK 9. The FK and one of the Sky Arrows were rented from Hansen Air Group of Atlanta and the other Sky Arrow was rented from Philly Sport Pilot of Wilmington, Delaware.

Jason Jernigan

Jason Jernigan

Over nearly six weeks the students accumulated over 250 hours of flight time and almost the same  number of hours combined in ground school and pre-flight and post-flight briefings. Overseeing the project  for the third year was professor Bernie Wulle, teaching the ground school course was Scott Winter, and  providing much needed  aircraft inspections, minor repairs and maintenance was Brian Strim.

Blazing heat made it necessary to begin flights in the very early morning, and when possible, the students were up for their second flights of the day in the hours just before sunset. In between flights the students attended ground school classes and had their own informal study sessions at the dorm. They also had the chance to explore the Purdue campus and the town.

Matt Sponaugle portrait

Matt Sponaugle

This year’s class also benefited by having Able Flight pilot Kevin Crombie on campus as a mentor. Kevin was one of four scholarship winners to earn their license last year at Purdue and has since applied to and been accepted into the school’s aviation program. Now living in West Lafayette, Kevin (who uses a wheelchair due to paralysis) was on hand to guide the new students through their first days in unfamiliar territory; especially helpful to the three students this year who also use wheelchairs.

Following a syllabus developed by instructor Justin Lowe, the instructors made the  normal entries in each student’s logbook, and also kept a detailed master log of the  combined status of all students. As with all Able Flight instruction, the goal for training at Purdue is to teach well beyond the FAA minimum standard for a Sport Pilot Certificate. This year’s pilots logged an average of  just over 40 hours each, more than 100% beyond what is required by the FAA.

Devon Radloff portrait

Devon Radloff

Inevitably, some good-natured competition developed over who would solo or finish first,  causing some of the students to try to convince their instructors to give them extra lessons. The daily logs show that for the most part, the instructors were immune to such requests, instead making sure that everyone had an equal chance to fly the same number of hours each day. As solo time approached, each student received a phase check provided by a different instructor and was required to take a pre-solo written exam. The phase check was repeated before each student was approved for their solo cross country and check ride flights.

Steven Scott portrait

Steven Scott

Able Flight would like to thank the sponsors and donors who made it possible for the pilots to train and earn their licenses at Purdue, including King Schools for providing an online knowledge test course and ForeFlight for proving a one-year subscription for each pilot. And a special thanks to A&P Brian Strim who worked nights performing inspections and repairs to keep both Sky Arrows and the FK flying under a demanding schedule.

Able Flight’s new pilots will be honored at the annual “Wings” pinning ceremony held at EAA AirVenture, scheduled for Tuesday July 24th at 11:45 AM in Phillips 66 Plaza. Join them and special guests including airshow great Michael Goulian and Able Flight pilot Jessica Cox.