July 18, 2018

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.


All eight members of the Class of 2017 traveled to EAA AirVenture to be honored at our annual Wings Ceremony on July 25th. On a beautiful day with friends and family present, the newest Able Flight pilots were the guests of honor at the event held for the first time at Theater In The Woods.

Receiving their pilot wings were Melissa Allensworth of California, Chris Corsi of North Carolina, Zackary Kukorlo of Washington, Brice Lott of North Carolina, Captain Ferris Butler U.S. Army (retired) of Maryland, Kathryn Brenner of Illinois, Benedict Jones of Indiana, and Kunho Kim of Massachusetts.

During the ceremony it was announced that the following 2017 pilots had been designated as recipients of scholarships honoring the support of sponsors who have made long-term commitments:
Melissa Allensworth-Bombardier, Ferris Butler-Lockheed Martin, Kunho Kim-Jet Aviation, Benedict Jones-Shell Aviation, Kathryn Brenner-ForeFlight and Brice Lott-Tempest.

Also honored at the event were co- Flight Instructors of the Year Justin Beam and Molly Van Scoy, and Volunteer of the Year Brian Stirm. The first Able Flight “Extra Effort Award” went to instructor Allison Hoffman for her work in training Zackary Kukorlo who is deaf. In addition to her duties as a flight instructor, Allison learned basic sign language to better communicate with Zackary.

Representing The Ohio State University were instructor Josh Fisher and Director of Aviation Education Brandon Mann, and from Purdue University instructors Rob Banta, and Chris Konecnik. Also recognized for their outstanding achievements for 2017 at Purdue were professor Bernie Wulle and volunteer program coordinator and Able Flight Wesley Major (Class of 2012), and lead flight instructor for Ohio State, Joe Schwerdtfeger.

Special guests included Patty Wagstaff and Able Flight sponsors Jim Irwin of Aircraft Spruce, Dodd Stretch of Airtex Interiors,  Allyssa Ten Eyck of Embraer, Tyson Weihs of ForeFlight, Dominique Christall of Bombardier, Micheal D. Brown and Paul Royko of Shell Aviation, and Arlene Kidwell Smith and John Herman of 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.