Becoming a pilot is a metaphor for life: Getting your pilot certificate is a challenge, and conquering that challenge can give you the confidence to tackle other life obstacles.
Charles Stites, executive director of Able Flight, a not-for-profit organization that makes flight and aviation career training possible for disabled people, knows this only too well. On opening day of SUN ’n FUN, he noted that it would never happen without the support of businesses such as Tempest Plus Marketing Group out of Gibsonville, N.C.
For the next three years Tempest will supply scholarships for three disabled people to earn their Sport Pilot certificates through Able Flight.
“I am extremely pleased that Tempest is in a position to give back to our industry in such an inspirational way,” says John Herman, president of Tempest. “We are encouraged by the work of Able Flight in helping to fulfill the dreams of flight for these wonderful deserving people. Able Flight and all of the candidates and recipients are such as inspiration to all of us at Tempest, to follow our dreams no matter what the challenges that lay ahead. We are delighted we are able to honor the memory of Lloyd Smith by helping others fulfill their dreams.”
Smith, the first husband of Arleen Smith Herman, was killed in an airplane accident. In 2006 Arleen married John Herman.
Stites proudly notes that Able Flight, which has been in operation for nine years, has awarded some 60 scholarships.
“Fifty of those are flight training scholarships, the rest were for aviation career training,” Stites explains. “The pilot training is for the Sport Pilot certificate, although we have had four of our recipients go on to get their private pilot certificates.”
Training is done during a six-week course at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.
“All expenses, from travel, lodging, training and testing supplies, are covered by the scholarship,” Stites said, noting that the training syllabus used by Able Flight usually results in pilots who have more than the minimum 20 hours required by the FAA when they receive their certificates.
Stites and Herman were joined at the press conference by Jessica Cox, a past Able Flight scholarship winner. Cox was born without arms, but was able to earn her Sport Pilot certificate in a Light-Sport Aircraft-qualified Ercoupe in 2008. The Ercoupe was chosen because many of them were made without rudder pedals. The yoke provides both aileron and elevator authority.
“The hardest part of the flight training were things that you would think would be simple, but presented a challenge, like putting on a headset,” Cox laughed. “And then finding an Ercoupe that worked for me. The first one didn’t work because the throttle control was up to high and I couldn’t reach it.”
Many of the scholarship recipients are born disabled. Others experience life-changing accidents, or are injured in service to their country.
Often Cox talks with the scholarship recipients about their experiences, noting that learning to fly can be “emotionally healing.”