LAKELAND, Florida — The Aerospace Center for Excellence (ACE), the educational component of the SUN ‘n FUN Fly-In, is partnering with Able Flight, which provides scholarships to disabled people so they can learn to fly.
As part of the new partnership, construction of a Zenith 750 will begin at this year’s fly-in, with students from the Central Florida Aerospace Academy and Lakeland Aero Club finishing the airplane after the show.
Once complete, the homebuilt will be used for flight training for Able Flight scholarship winners.
“Our mission at ACE is to engage, educate, and accelerate the next generation of aerospace professionals,” said Ed Young, executive director. “Able Flight’s success in engaging and educating individuals with disabilities in flight training is unparalleled. We have the opportunity to truly change lives by combining our core competencies.”
The partnership is also being supported by Zenith Aircraft Co. Recently, an Able Flight scholarships award winner built a specially designed Zenith 750 with the support of his community.
“The plan is to build the airplane in the Buehler Restoration Center on the ACE campus during the 2019 SUN ‘n FUN Fly-In and with the help of the Lakeland Aero Club, the youth flying club on the ACE campus, after the fly-in,” Young said. “We are planning to name the aircraft the ‘Spirit of Lakeland.'”
“Our community in Lakeland has a chance to not only support this noble effort, but to literally come together and build a training airplane that could serve hundreds or thousands of disabled people in the future,” added Rick Garcia, president of Gulf Coast Avionics and an ACE board member.
“Our new training partnership with ACE provides an outstanding opportunity to build upon our successful relationships with Purdue University and The Ohio State University,” said Charles Stites, executive director of Able Flight. “Now with three training locations, and the ability to train almost year round in Florida, Able Flight pilots will benefit from the expertise of the dedicated aviation professionals at the Aerospace Center for Excellence who share our mission of creating a pathway for people with physical disabilities to have equal access to flight training and aviation career training.”
“Lakeland is ideally situated close to the Tampa VA rehabilitation center,” adds ACE and SUN ‘n FUN CEO John “Lites” Leenhouts. “We hope the disabled veterans in our area will apply for the Able Flight Scholarship. While anyone with a disability is eligible for the opportunities Able Flight gives, we are keenly aware of the needs of the nearby former and current service members.”
Able Flight Scholarship students will be housed in the Tom Davis Educational Center on the ACE Campus during training and instructed by volunteer certified flight instructors.