September 24, 2020


Ten people from throughout the country have been selected as recipients of an Able Flight Scholarship for 2020. Eight will train at Able Flight’s program at Purdue University beginning in May, one will earn a CFI certificate with his Career Training Scholarship, and one will become Able Flight’s first student to attend training late in 2020 at the Aerospace Center For Excellence in Lakeland, Florida.

Of the ten scholarship recipients, six use wheelchairs due to paralysis, one is deaf, one has a paralyzed arm, and two are amputees. Four are veterans; with one being wounded in combat and three becoming disabled due to injuries.

The members of the Able Flight “Class of 2020” are:

Joshua Martin of Texas. Joshua is a graduate of West Point who trained and served as a Special Operations helicopter pilot before losing his lower left leg due to a motor vehicle accident in 2018. With his scholarship, Joshua will return to flying by earning his fixed-wing pilot certificate. Joshua will train at Purdue University.




Chris Murad

Chris Murad of Georgia. Chris recently graduated from Georgia Tech with an aerospace degree. He became paralyzed in 2016 when shot during a robbery as he was leaving work. Chris will train at Purdue University.





Peyton Wolter of Wisconsin. Peyton grew up active in a variety of outdoor sports and became paralyzed in late 2017 as a result of an injury sustained in a boating accident. Peyton will train at Purdue University.





Michael Price of North Dakota. Michael is a graduate of Penn Foster University in Fargo, ND, and had his first flight as part of an introductory program in 1997. That same day he became paralyzed due to injuries from a car accident. Michael will train at Purdue University.





Jason Daugherty of Georgia. Jason was first exposed to flying in the fifth grade through a course taught by a teacher who was a licensed pilot. His plans to become a pilot were halted in 2003 when he became paralyzed due to a car accident. Jason will train at Purdue University.






Austin “Chance” Field of Texas. Chance Field spent several summers working around planes at an FBO operated by his aunt and uncle before serving in the Navy. In 2006 he was paralyzed due to injuries from a motor vehicle accident. Austin will train at the Aerospace Center For Excellence in Lakeland, Florida.




Sheila Zhi Xu of Nevada. Sheila is a graduate of MIT and has been both a participant in the Fulbright Scholarship Program and an intern at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Shelia was born with profound hearing loss in both ears, and will train at Purdue University.




T’angelo Magee of Pennsylvania. T’angelo is a veteran of the U.S. Army with multiple combat deployments who became paralyzed due to injuries from a motorcycle accident. In 2019, he participated in the Able Flight program at Purdue where he both soloed and passed his written exam before an illness forced him to cut short his training. T’angelo will train at Purdue University.





David Snypes, Jr. of New York. David is a veteran of the U.S. Army having served from 2009 to 2016, including tours in Afghanistan. In 2016, he lost the use of his left arm due to injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident. David will train at Purdue University.





Steven Curry of Virginia. Steven served in the U.S. Army in both Afghanistan and Iraq. His plans to secure a Warrant Officer training slot to become a helicopter pilot ended when injuries from an IED required the amputation of his left leg below the knee. Steven with train at Aviation Adventures in Virginia.


The “Spirit of Lakeland”

Central Florida Aerospace Academy students  (L-R) Landen Kincart and Nick Cimini working on the
 Spirit of Lakeland’s unique panel

When it was announced that the Aerospace Center For Excellence (ACE)  at the Lakeland, Florida Airport would become a training partner with Able Flight in 2020, that report included news on a unique project to build an adapted plane to be used in the program.  

We want to update you on the progress of the new Zenith 750 that is under construction with much of the work being done by students at Central Florida Aerospace Academy, the on airport aviation high school that is a component of ACE.

New Continental 0-200D is ready to mount on the airframe

Working under the guidance of Andy Ovans, Aircraft Maintenance Manager for Sun ‘n Fun, and with assistance from other ACE staff, the students have been busy assembling the Zenith kit that will be operated by the Lakeland Aero Club, another component of ACE.

Recently, the Continental O-200D powerplant arrived and additional components have been attached. It will be mounted to the fuselage once the airplane is on its gear.

At the same time, work is proceeding on the unique panel mount pioneered by Zenith in another of its models. It’s called the “UnPanel”, and features a center-mounted platform that can swivel from side to side. Avionics work is being assisted by Gulf Coast Avionics which is donating components and labor.

Construction will continue on the “Spirit Of Lakeland ” throughout the winter and early spring, and plans are to display the airplane at Sun ‘n Fun 2020 in early April. Stay tuned for more details.


Lt. Colonel Daniel Gade U.S. Army-retired

After seven weeks of intensive flight training and ground school, seven 2019 Able Flight scholarship recipients are now licensed pilots. Six trained at Purdue University and one at The Ohio State University, and they will be honored at Able Flight’s annual Wings Pinning Ceremony at EAA AirVenture 2019.

Our Class of 2019 includes Lt. Colonel Daniel Gade (U.S. Army-retired) who was wounded in combat in Iraq, Leslie Irby of Georgia who was paralyzed in an auto accident, Joey Moncalieri (U.S Coast Guard) who was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident, Samuel Mahoney of Wisconsin who was paralyzed due to a fall, Anthony Radetic (U.S. Army-retired) who was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident, Will Bucher of North Carolina who was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident, and Steven Martinez (U.S. Marines-retired) who was injured in a motor vehicle accident.

Leslie Irby

Thanks to the instructors at Purdue and OSU, the students logged over 700 total hours of instruction, including 337 hours of flight instruction and more than 400 hours of individual ground training. And that doesn’t even include a daily ground school class for the first month.

Ten recipients were selected to train in 2019. In addition to the seven who completed training, one student’s training was delayed due to a medical condition, one withdrew, and one will require different adapted controls to complete training.

The 2019 instructors at OSU were Kate Meelhuysen and Joe Schwerdtfeger, and at Purdue they were Rachel Jackson, Aaron Ashby, Travis Gowan, Erik Levin, Zach Hill and Chief Flight Instructor, Lucero Duran. The ground school instructor at Purdue was Professor Bernie Wulle.

Able Flight would like to thank our sponsors who make this program possible, including ForeFlight, Tempest Plus, Perrone Aerospace, Shell Aviation, Embraer, Lockheed Martin, Signature Flight Support, Alerion, Muncie Aviation and Flexjet.


A Record Number Of Scholarships For 2019

With ten new flight training scholarships just awarded, Able Flight has now reached the milestone of awarding over 100 scholarships since it was founded. This year’s Able Flight class includes an Army Lt. Colonel wounded in combat, four other veterans disabled due to accidents, and two women. One of the veterans is a former Army helicopter pilot who is now paralyzed and will be returning to flying with his Able Flight Scholarship.

Receiving awards are Lt. Colonel Daniel Gade (US Army-retired) of Virginia, Leslie Irby and Ignacio Montoya of Georgia, Will Bucher of North Carolina, Steven Martinez and Samuel Mahoney of Wisconsin, T’angelo Magee of New Jersey, Anthony Radetic of Alabama, Joseph Moncalieri of Massachusetts, and Emily Hupe of California who is returning to train this year after illness forced a delay in 2018.

Able Flight’s Charles Stites said, “2019 is a year of milestones for our program with the largest number of scholarships in a single year, and we are excited to have awarded more than 100 total scholarships since the program was founded. This has only been possible due to the continuous support we have received from sponsors in the aviation community, and from donors both inside and outside of aviation.”

2019 also marks the tenth consecutive year of Able Flight’s partnership with Purdue University, and the third year of its partnership with The Ohio State University. With flight school beginning in mid-May, the students have already begun their studies with online courses donated by Sporty’s Pilot Shop.

Graduates of the “Class of 2019” will be guests of honor when they receive their Able Flight Wings on stage at EAA AirVenture in July, just weeks after becoming licensed pilots.

Building A Dream One Rivet At a Time

Able Flight pilot John Robinson

John Robinson faced the same problem many new Able Flight pilots encounter. Once they earn a pilot’s license, then what? What can they fly if they aren’t fortunate enough to live near one of the few adapted airplanes in the country? John’s answer was simple-he’d build his own.

There is a luxury in not knowing how difficult something is going to be when you first start down the path of good intentions.  It was best that John wasn’t fully aware that the Zenith 750 Cruzer he wished to build contained thousands of rivets, and hundreds of pieces of sheet metal along with hundreds of screws, bolts, washers, nuts and fittings, each one requiring the exact placement by a dedicated builder. That’s especially true when it comes to building your own plane, and even more so when you are a quadriplegic (see John’s story in this Able Flight video).  But John is used to adversity and challenge, and in his deceptively low key manner, an obstacle in his path is worthy of study, and that study then leads to a plan of action.

So John decided that, since he doesn’t have the full use of his hands and fingers the way most builders do, he would find a way to make the best use of what he has.  Just as importantly, he would seek generous help from those who hands had not been partially paralyzed in an accident. That help would come in the form of members of EAA Chapter 1083 in Rowan County, NC, and the five chapter members who donated a great deal of time and expertise. Tom Neal, Lewis Brown, Louis Moore, Lance Berrier and Gary Coontz showed up at the hangar time after time for over two years until just a few weeks ago, John’s dream took to the air for the first time on Sunday October 21st, 2018 with Jan Eggenfeller  of Viking Engines at the controls.

Shortly after witnessing the first flight, Robinson says, “After two years of biweekly build nights, and frequent unscheduled work sessions, it was strange to come to the hangar one day and realize that there was nothing left to do, the plane was complete. The transition from building to flying struck me as rather abrupt, almost off guard. It still hasn’t sunk in that in a hangar, I have a flyable airplane.”

Even with experienced and trustworthy help, there was the other big issue. How would he pay for it? That’s when John decided that the solution was to seek help from those who understood that his dream was not for a plane for him alone, but one in which others facing their own physical challenges could test themselves as John had done through Able Flight. To do that he created AV84all, an nonprofit with the mission to “…make general aviation accessible for all, no matter the disability.”

The project was kicked off by Sebastien Heintz of Zenith Aircraft with a donated air frame kit, and that was followed by the donation of a firewall forward kit by Jan Eggenfeller of Viking.  Technic Air provided a beautiful interior, and other contributors were: Whelen, ACR, Wicks Aircraft Supply, The Ray Allen Company, and Corrosion Technologies.

Now, with thousands of parts assembled and moving in unison above North Carolina, there are required hours of test flying to be completed and then John Robinson will once again make a major transition in his life, the return from aircraft builder to pilot. And that’s two dreams fulfilled.

2018 Able Flight Pilots Get Their Wings!

Front row (L-R) Asher Kirschbaum, Julia Velasquez, Rob Shardy Kory Puderbaugh, Staff Sgt. Robert Bartlett. Back row (L-R) Andrew Geers, Josh Fisher, Andrea Hayek, Austin Decker, Christina Gorsky.

As they came on stage at EAA AirVenture to receive their pilot’s wings, the Able Flight Class of 2018 clearly represented our mission of enabling people with a variety of physical disabilities to become licensed pilots. From a young man who was born without hands or feet, to two pilots who are deaf, to a man paralyzed in an accident, and to a wounded veteran, this year’s new aviators may not be typical of the pilot population as a whole, but they are typical of the more than 65 people who have earned a pilot certificate through Able Flight.

On July 24th at a special ceremony at AirVenture’s Theater In The Woods, Kory Purderbaugh, Julia Velasquez, Asher Kirschbaum, Rob Shardy and Staff Sgt. Robert Bartlett were honored for their hard work and success in becoming licensed pilots. Puderbaugh, Kirschbaum and Velasquez trained at Purdue University, and Shardy and Bartlett trained at The Ohio State University. On hand for the ceremony were family, friends and Able Flight sponsors, and pinning pilot wings were Jason Miller of Foreflight, John Herman of Tempest Plus, Michael Brown and Jonathan Stoy of Shell Aviation, Daniel Bachmann of Embraer, and Aviation Hall of Fame member Patty Wagstaff who did the honors for Lockheed Martin.


Designated as recipients of named scholarships for 2018 were:

Kory Puderbaugh: Tempest Plus

Asher Kirschbaum: Embraer

Julia Velasquez: ForeFlight

Rob Shardy: Shell Aviation

Staff Sgt. Robert Bartlett: Lockheed Martin

Special guests included a number of the flight instructors who taught this year’s student pilots, including Josh Fisher of OSU, and Christina Gorsky, Austin Decker, Andrea Hayek and Andrew Geers of Purdue. During the ceremony, Geers was named the Able Flight 2018 Flight Instructor of the Year, and selected as co-recipients of the Seidel Award honoring their volunteer service were Brian Stirm and Lucero Duran of Purdue University.

Able Flight thanks EAA for making the venue available for the ceremony.

Announcing Our 2018 Scholarship Recipients

The Able Flight Class of 2018 includes a woman paralyzed due to an accident, two future pilots who are deaf, a man who became paralyzed due to an auto accident, a man who was born with a condition affecting all four limbs, and a soldier wounded in combat. The six new aspiring pilots are already  working their way through an online ground school course, and in May, four will report to Purdue University and two to The Ohio State University.

Receiving flight training scholarships are Emily Hupe of California,  Rob Shardy of Ohio,  Julia Velasquez of California, Kory Puderbaugh of Arizona,  Asher Kirschbaum of Maryland and Staff Sgt. Robert Bartlett (retired) of Virginia. Shardy and Bartlett will train at OSU and the others will train at Purdue.

Able Flight’s Charles Stites said, “As with all Able Flight pilots who have come before them, this year’s class will soon discover how challenging our training course is at both universities. Both Purdue University and The Ohio State University share our goal of training pilots who graduate with a new sense of what they are capable of, and a true appreciation for what they have experienced through such an intensive and demanding program. When they receive their Able Flight pilot’s wings, they will know they have earned them.”

Based on their individual needs, the student pilots will be training in a variety of Light Sport Aircraft.  Sporty’s Pilot Shop provided each student with an online ground school course, and they received access to the program early so can begin their studies and become familiar with rules and regulations, aerodynamics, aircraft performance, weather and the abundance of aviation acronyms. Just prior to their arrival for training each student will also receive a complimentary one year Pro subscription to ForeFlight to assist them with flight planning and navigation information.

This is the ninth consecutive year of Able Flight’s partnership with Purdue, and its second year working with The Ohio State University. Graduates of the “Class of 2018” will be guests of honor when they receive their Able Flight Wings on stage at EAA AirVenture On Tuesday, July 24th, just weeks after becoming licensed pilots.

Class of 2017 To Get Their Wings!

The Able Flight Class of 2017 will be honored in a special ceremony at EAA AirVenture on Tuesday, July 25th at 10am at Theater In The Woods. Eight new students trained at both Purdue University and Ohio State University beginning in mid-May, and after nearly two months of hard work in the airplanes and the classroom, they began taking checkrides just a few weeks ago.

This year’s pilots include a veteran wounded in combat, several pilots who were paralyzed due to accidents, a young woman who is a diabetic, and a young man who is deaf.  2017 pilots are Melissa Allensworth of California, Benedict Jones of Indiana, Kunho Kim of Massachusetts, Captain Ferris Butler U.S. Army (retired) of Maryland, Chris Corsi and Brice Lott of North Carolina, Kathryn Brenner of Illinois and Zackary Kukorlo of Washington.

Six of the pilots will also be honored individually as recipients of scholarships provided by Bombardier, ForeFlight, Lockheed Martin, Jet Aviation, Shell Aviation and Tempest.


The Gift Of A Plane

(L-R) Charles Stites, Sheila Sommers & Steve Merritt

Navy veteran Dennis Sommers wanted to add becoming a pilot to his long list of achievements. Having soloed under the tutelage of instructor Allen Fox, Dennis was well on his way, when early in 2017, cancer ended his dream. After his passing in March of this year, the classic Ercoupe 415-C Dennis had bought in which to learn to fly, and then named “Little Bird”, sat behind the closed doors of his hangar in Chester, South Carolina. Then,  his wife Sheila found Able Flight, and donated the unique plane that can be flown by people without use of their legs.

Sheila Sommers and instructor Allen Fox

The donation was set in motion when Sheila heard about Able Flight from Larry Snyder, Executive Director of the Ercoupe Owners Club as she searched for an organization that would use the plane to honor Dennis’ wish that it help others learn to fly. When she investigated Able Flight, she realized that it would be used to do just that, and could be used to help wounded or disabled veterans to fly as well. And since Dennis had not only been a Navy veteran but had also served in the National Guard and Coast Guard, giving the plane to Able Flight would be a perfect fit.

Of the donation Charles Stites of Able Flight said, “We are honored that Sheila found Able Flight and made the decision to donate Dennis’ airplane to further his wish that it would go to an organization that would use it to help fulfill the flying dreams of others. When we met, Sheila shared the story of Dennis telling her that many people have a bucket list of things to do when they retire, but that his could be on a single piece of paper, and that was learning to fly. It was wonderful to learn that with Allen Fox as his instructor, Dennis was able to solo his Ercoupe before he became ill. Dennis and Allen had established that special bond that a student pilot and instructor have, and it was touching to see Allen return to help Sheila take care of the details of the donation.”

Sheila with photo of her late husband, Dennis Sommers.

On July 3rd, Charles Stites and Steve Merritt of Able Flight traveled to meet with Sommers and Fox to formally accept the donated plane. After Sommers signed over the Ercoupe, Merritt received the keys and flew it to North Carolina before a scheduled journey to Indiana where it will reside year-round to be used in Able Flight’s training program at Purdue University.

Prior to being put into service for Able Flight at its program at Purdue, the Ercoupe will receive several upgrades to prepare it for intensive use as a trainer. The baggage compartment will be increased in size to accommodate carrying a wheelchair, and a new transponder with ADS-B Out will be installed to make sure it meets upcoming FAA requirements. Able Flight is seeking donations to help make those upgrades possible, so if you wish to help, just visit the “Donate” page to make your gift of any amount and you can add the word “Ercoupe” in the notes on your donation.

2017 Flight Training Underway


(L-R) Brice Lott, Josh Fisher, Luke Shutway and Chris Corsi

Ever since they were awarded scholarships, the Able Flight “Class of 2017” had been waiting for training to begin. Months of anticipation culminated in the arrival of Brice Lott and Chris Corsi at The Ohio State University on May 15th, and a week later, Melissa Allensworth, Benedict Jones, Kunho Kim, Zackary Kurkalo, Ferris Butler, and Kathryn Brenner arrived at Purdue. After meeting their instructors and getting settled in their dorm rooms, daily flight and ground school lessons were quickly underway.


(L-R) Lucero Duran, Wesley Major and Molly Van Scoy

Even with less than desirable weather throughout the Midwest in the first two weeks, instructors had the students up flying as often as twice a day, and time spent not in the air was time spent in the classroom. Instructing for Able Flight at OSU this year are Luke Shutway and Josh Fisher, with Joe Schwerdtfeger serving as supervising instructor, and Rob Mendez as student ambassador.


At Purdue, Lucero Duran returns as lead instructor with Justin Beam, Allison Hoffman, Sean O’Brien, Chris Konecnik, Nick Liberman, Rob Banta and Molly Van Scoy as instructors. Wesley Major is the onsite program coordinator at Purdue for the fifth consecutive year. With the expansion of training to The Ohio State University, this is the largest group of students and instructors and support personnel in the history of Able Flight, and the logistical challenges reflect the size of the project.

A few numbers to consider:

Students traveled from eight states
Eight dorm rooms
Eleven instructors
Five airplanes (four were ferried from three states)
Two onsite program coordinators
Three maintenance staff
Over 1100 gallons of Swift Fuels and avgas  will be used (Swift Fuels at Purdue and avgas at OSU)
Hundreds of classroom and individual pre and post flight hours