December 4, 2022

The Able Flight Class of 2022

When the members of the Able Flight “Class of 2022” arrive at Purdue University in late May, they’ll have only one day to get settled in the dorm and have orientation at the dispatch hangar. As soon as their second day they’ll begin six-seven weeks of daily flights to prepare them for their early July check ride. For four months prior to their arrival, they will have studied using an online course generously donated by Sporty’s Pilot Shop that was supplemented by live remote instruction from Purdue.

Two of this year’s class are veterans, and in a first for Able Flight, all six use wheelchairs due to the results of accidents, illness or a combat injury. They will fly one of three specially-adapted Sky Arrows, and will be taught by instructors who are upper level undergraduates or graduate school students in Purdue’s School of Aviation and Transportation Technology. This year marks Able Flight’s 12th year of partnership with Purdue.

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

Andy Burnette of Florida is a veteran wounded in combat. While Andy was serving as an infantry platoon medic in Afghanistan, a sniper round pierced his spine, leaving him a quadriplegic.

Ryan Chen is a paraplegic who uses a wheelchair due to an injury sustained in a snowboarding accident in 2009. He is a blackbelt in Kendo, and is co-founder of Neurogum, a consumer products company.

Stephanie Cibello of Pennsylvania has served as a EMT and is active in Women In Aviation and plans to use her pilot certificate for charitable flying. She uses a wheelchair as a result of a birth defect affecting her right leg.

Austin “Chance” Field of Texas 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.


Nathaniel Miller of Arizona graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in architecture and is working on becoming a licensed architect. He became a quadriplegic as a result of a diving accident, and has competed in wheelchair rugby on the national level.

Chris Murad of Georgia graduated from Georgia Tech with an aerospace engineering degree. He became paralyzed in 2016 when shot during a robbery as he was leaving work.

Our 2021 Pilots Get Their Wings

With a successful 2021 training session at Purdue in the books, Able Flight’s new pilots returned to their homes for a few weeks of down time before traveling to Oshkosh, Wisconsin where they were honored on July 21st during our annual Wings Pinning Ceremony at EAA AirVenture.

Awarded pilot wings were T’angelo Magee, Peyton Wolter, Sheila Xu, Michael Price and David Snypes Jr. who all trained at Purdue. Joining them was Steven Curry, who just days before the ceremony, passed his checkride to earn his Certified Flight Instructor rating.

Special guests included family and friends, flight instructors from Purdue University and Aviation Adventures, Aviation Hall of Fame inductee Patty Wagstaff, Able Flight pilots Jessica Cox and Adam Kisielewski, representatives of sponsors Tempest Aero Group, ForeFlight, Muncie Aviation and Aircraft Spruce, and Federal Air Surgeon Dr. Susan Northrup.

2021 Training Underway

Able Flight’s “Class of 2021” at Purdue with their instructors

After a year of delay caused by the pandemic, five students of the Able Flight “Class of 2021” arrived at Purdue University on May 22, and by the next day, most were in the air for their first lesson.

Attending training at Purdue are David Snypes, Jr, Peyton Wolter, Sheila Xu, T’angelo Magee, and Michael Price. Each student is paired with an instructor dedicated to them, and instructors for 2021 include Zach Hill (Lead Instructor), Nicolas Kass, Colleen Finnell, Steven Stoyko and Aaron Wall. Also assisting is Lucero Duran who has been a key volunteer instructor for more than five years.

Shortly after meeting their instructors, the new student pilots attended orientation, covering topics such as safety practices, communications, aircraft fueling, and for those who use wheelchairs, how to transfer from chair to plane.

Strong health safety protocols are being adhered to both at the airport and in the dorm housing the students, and almost all students and instructors have been fully vaccinated.

By the end of their first ten days, as a group this year’s class had already logged over 71 hours in the air, and as least as many hours of ground instruction, and they are well on their way to first solos.

Drone Flight Career Training Scholarships Available

Drone operator with droneAble Flight is now offering career training scholarships for certification in the fast-growing  field of using drones for commercial applications. Recently Able Flight partnered with Unmanned Safety Institute (USI), the leading aviation-based safety training and industry certification provider for unmanned operations to provide both online and in-person training for scholarship recipients. Training provide under the scholarship will include certification under FAA Part 107 and further certification provide by USI under their Level One training program.

Executive Director of Able Flight, Charles Stites, commented, “With the growth of unmanned aviation, and with a positive outlook for career opportunities in commercial drone operations, we determined that this would be a great time to add a UAS option to our career training scholarship program. As with the facilities who provide instruction to recipients of our flight training scholarships, we choose to work with organizations like USI that have developed programs that go well beyond the minimum standards required by the FAA.”

“The inherent requirements of unmanned aviation could provide for significantly greater career opportunities for individuals with some sort of physical disability”, added Josh Olds, President of the Unmanned Safety Institute. “As we became more familiar with Able Flight, it was apparent that their focus on pilot safety and competency would translate into incredibly talented, industry ready, UAS pilots through their participation in the USI training program.”

For more information on how to apply for an Able Flight Career Training Scholarship, visit here.


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.