December 17, 2018

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.

2018 Training Underway

Sudenta dn instructors at OSU: Robert Bartlett, Josh Fisher, Rob Shardy, Luke Shutway and Joe Schwerdtfeger

(L-R) Robert Bartlett, Josh Fisher, Rob Shardy, Luke Shutway and Joe Schwerdtfeger

Able Flight’s 2018 flight training scholarship recipients and their instructors wasted no time getting started when the student pilots arrived at both Purdue University and The Ohio State University in mid-May. Within 24 hours of checking into their dorm rooms, the new student pilots had completed orientation and become acquainted with the planes in which they’ll become licensed pilots by early July. Within a few days, all had their first flights.

At OSU, Rob Shardy and Staff Sergeant Robert Bartlett (U.S. Army-retired) met their instructors Luke Shutway and Josh Fisher and the school’s assistant Chief Instructor Joe Schwerdtfeger and took a look at the newly-adapted Zenith 750 being used for training for the first time. With weather preventing flight on the first few days, Shardy and Bartlett continued the ground school study they had started online in February thanks to a donation from Sportys. By May 16th they were in the air, and began logging hours.

At Purdue, Emily Hupe, Asher Kirschbaum, Kory Puderbaugh and Julia Velasquez had their orientation on May 16th, and all had their first flights by the next day. Their instructors  are Andrea Hynek, Austin Decker, Andrew Geers and Christina Gursky. The chief flight instructor  is Lucero Duran and the ground school instructor is Michael Gref.

Able Flight scholarship Emily Hupe with Sky Arrow

Emily Hupe prior to an early flight at Purdue

Hupe and Puderbaugh are training in Sky Arrows and Kirschbaum and Velasquez are learning in an FK9. The FK9 was selected for them because both student pilots are deaf, and the side-by-side arrangement allows them to better communicate with their instructors. Several of the students will also have the opportunity to fly the Ercoupe 415-C that was donated to the program by Shelia Sommers in honor of her late husband Dennis Sommers. Even with weather delays from a stalled front, as of May 28th, the four students  at Purdue had logged a combined total of over 45 hours in the air and nearly 90 ground school hours.

By the  first week of July, the students at both training locations will have passed the ground study Knowledge Test and will be preparing for their check rides, and on July 24th at EAA AirVenture, the Able Flight Class of 2018 will receive their pilot wings.

2018 Party Was a Hit!

It was the aviation party of the year when Able Flight pilots, special guests and friends met on May 5th, 2018 for a night of fun, food and music at the iconic Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Museum in Cleveland. Guests had exclusive use of the Hall with the opportunity to tour the world class display of rock & roll memorabilia before dinner.  The fun continued with a great auction, followed by the music of Tad Robinson and his band, and special musical guest, Sarah Collins.

Guests who arrived by private aircraft were treated to a generous fuel discount with all handling fees waived by party sponsor Signature Flight Support at their beautiful facility at Burke Lakefront Airport, within walking distance of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

A special thanks to our sponsors for the evening who covered all expenses for the event so that all proceeds from tables, individual seats and the auction go directly to our scholarship fund:

 

 

 

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.

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.