Students in this year’s Able Flight program arrived on campus May 18 and got their first look at the Sky Arrow planes. Since then, the class has taken to the skies.
Bernie Wulle, an associate professor of aviation technology, said he has seen a variety of students many times before.
“We’ve had some who have no experience and one year we had a pilot who had solo experience before being disabled in an accident,” he said. “We’ve had all types.”
This year’s class includes a man who was in training to be a U.S. Army Golden Knight parachute team member when he was injured during a jump.
The one similarity is each student – just like the almost 30 before them – faces some kind of physical disability that under normal circumstances would keep them out of the cockpit. But the disability does little to stop them.
For six weeks, the students fly up to three times each day, learning the nuances of piloting a plane to earn a light sport pilot license.
“The students are really motivated to learn,” Wulle said. “They’re here for a purpose.”
People working to receive scholarships this year are Johnny Ragland and Justin Falls of North Carolina, Ethan Daffron of Indiana, Scott Earley of Florida, Shafeeq Moore of Georgia, Bernard Dime of Arizona, Trevor Denning of Oregon, and Shavon McGlynn of New York.
In the past, students have learned to fly despite disabilities ranging from paralysis to amputated arms or legs. One student this year is deaf, requiring the instructor and her to use a different style plane with side-by-side seating.
Most of the students use Sky Arrow LSA planes that can be adapted for hand controls with the instructor sitting behind the student. Donations led to a third Sky Arrow being added to the Able Flight program this year. The plane arrived in late May.
This is the seventh consecutive year of Able Flight’s partnership with Purdue, the primary training site for the organization.
The eight Able Flight scholarships are a record for the national not-for-profit organization created by pilots to share the experience of learning to fly and enable people with disabilities to pursue that experience.
Class of 2016 graduates will be guests of honor when they receive their Able Flight wings on stage at EAA AirVenture on July 26 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
Wes Major, a former student of the program, now volunteers his time to help new students each year.
“I came to push myself, push the limits of what I felt was possible shortly after my injury,” he said. “You’re down and out and don’t know what is possible for you.
“Now, I just love giving back, seeing other people grow. I know what I gained from it and to witness that in other people that are very similar to myself is very rewarding.”
Students participate in the class for a variety of reasons. Wulle said some remain in the aviation industry while others do it to simply to tackle another hurdle in life.
“It’s neat watching people who maybe in one way or another haven’t been as fortunate as I have been,” he said. “But they don’t let it slow them down. They pick it up and go.”