December 4, 2022

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.