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One of my favorite aviation organizations is Able Flight, a charity whose mission is "to offer people with disabilities a unique way to challenge themselves through flight and aviation career training, and by doing so, to gain greater self-confidence and self-reliance."
To learn more about Able Flight, listen to this recent SimpleFlight podcast, Inspiration At Its Best, Able Flight, March 25, 2018, with Able Flight founder and executive director Charles Stites and Justin Falls, quadriplegic pilot and Able Flight graduate. (Also, watch this video about Justin learning to fly with Able Flight)
Above, Justin Falls (left) with Charles Stites (right) discuss hand control adaptation with Matt Heintz
Able Flight is a success story thanks (in large part) to Sport Pilot and Light Sport Aircraft, since many pilots with disabilities are unable to get a conventional third class medical.
At the Zenith Aircraft factory we've been working with Justin Falls to convert and customize an existing STOL CH 750 SLSA to hand controls. Justin is a full-time pharmacist and Able Flight graduate, who also happens to be quadriplegic. We've been working with Justin to convert a Zenith CH 750 to hand controls so that he may fly his own airplane.
Justin is planning to purchase this adapted CH 750, and plans to share his airplane with fellow pilots (with disabilities) and to make it available to train new Able Flight pilots. The STOL CH 750 is an original S-LSA, powered by the 100-hp Continental O-200.
Above and below: Justin flies the CH 750 with hand-controls: The rudder is controlled with a push-pull stick between his legs, which also has a throttle servo control and hand brake. The right side Y-stick is standard equipment.
Another Able Flight graduate we've been privileged to work with is John Robinson, who is also a quadriplegic pilot. John has partnered with his local EAA chapter, and together with the chapter members they are building a Zenith CH 750 Cruzer with adapted hand controls.
John founded his own non-profit organization, AV84ALL, to "foster a community of disabled aviators and disabled aviation enthusiasts that will participate in the mainstream world of general aviation through education, hands-on training, and inclusion, to overcome the many obstacles we face."
Partnerships with able-bodied groups like EAA chapters with pilots with disabilities is beneficial to not only the pilot but also to the EAA chapter itself, which benefits greatly by giving the group worthwhile aviation projects to be working on, and a great aviation cause to support. Providing the skills and manpower to help build a kit airplane for a pilot who is unable to do so (whether a physical disability or maybe even older age, or lack of skills or time) is a way that many EAA chapter members can give back to the aviation community, sharing their skills, abilities and experience.
While Able Flight pilots typically have noticeable disabilities, they all share the same desire (and ability) to fly that we all have, and I have learned that we all have disabilities (of varying degrees) to overcome, especially as we age! I find the Able Flight pilots' enthusiasm and dedication to be inspirational to all of us, and they put all of our challenges (and disabilities) into proper perspective.
"Experimental - Amateur-Built" aircraft (kit airplanes) are also well suited for pilots with disabilities: as "one of a kind" airplanes the builder can fully customize the airplane for their specific needs, with the freedom to modify the controls (and anything else on the airplane) as needed.
As mentioned above, the Sport Pilot certificate allows many pilots with disabilities to fly (who may be unable to get a conventional third class medical).
Light Sport and Ultralight Flyer video story:
Follow Up Video: Justin Falls' STOL CH 750 light-sport aircraft (SLSA) with hand controls (including electric servo for throttle control):
Aerospace Center for Excellence Launches Partnership with Able Flight
For Immediate Release: March 6, 2019
Lakeland, Florida: The Aerospace Center for Excellence, the educational component of SUN ‘n FUN Fly-In Inc., is excited to announce its partnership with Able Flight, a unique organization that shares a similar belief that learning to fly is a life changing experience. This partnership will enable those with disabilities an opportunity to earn their private pilot’s license in a customized aircraft that meets their physical needs, housing during their training, and instruction from volunteer certified instructors.
The Aerospace Center for Excellence (ACE) is renowned for youth-based educational programs, including a mentoring and scholarship program that has created 91 teenage private pilots. According to Ed Young, Executive Director of ACE, the partnership with Able Flight is synergistic. “Our mission at ACE is to engage, educate and accelerate the next generation of aerospace professionals. 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., a designer and manufacturer of aircraft kits. Recently, an Able Flight award winner built a specially designed Zenith 750, with the support of his community. Rick Garcia, President of Gulf Coast Avionics and ACE Board Member, said that “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.”
“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”. This project imbues the nature of the aviation community at the Lakeland Linder International Airport.”
Charles Stites, Executive Director of Able Flight, extolled the partnership’s potential to expand their program. “Our new training partnership with ACE provides an outstanding opportunity to build upon our successful relationships with Purdue University and The Ohio State University. 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,” notes 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.
For more information, contact Ed Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or (863)904-6948.
About Aerospace Center for Excellence, Inc.:
The Aerospace Center for Excellence (ACE), a 501(c)(3) non-profit, has emerged as a nationally recognized leader in STEM-related and aerospace education through its various learning centers, outreach programs, summer camps and scholarships aimed at preparing students for tomorrow’s aerospace challenges. Located on the SUN ‘n FUN Expo Campus in Lakeland, Florida, the organization is known for its annual SUN ‘n FUN International Fly-In and Expo fundraising event as well as the Aerospace Discovery Museum which is Florida’s Official Aviation Museum and Education Center. ACE is the world’s leader in producing licensed teenage private pilots and delivers youth programs that engage over 40,000 students a year. For more information, www.ACEedu.aero.
About Able Flight, Inc.:
Able Flight’s mission is to offer people with disabilities a unique way to challenge themselves through flight and aviation career training, and by doing so, to gain greater self-confidence and self-reliance. Able Flight was created by pilots who believe that the life-changing experience of learning to fly is best shared, and designed the Able Flight Scholarships to enable people with disabilities to pursue that experience. Members of the Able Flight Board of Directors and Advisory Board include a flight instructor, an Aviation Medical Examiner, a veteran who flies his own plane with the aid of a prosthetic device, and a previous scholarship recipient. Able Flight™ is incorporated as a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization, and is supported by the generous donations and sponsorships of individuals, foundations and corporations.
Aerobilityis currently undertaking the task of building its own aeroplane from a Zenith kit: Building a Dream - One Rivet at a Time. The project is the first of its kind in that the aircraft (CH750 STOL) will be entirely built and flown by a team of disabled people.
Here's a recent update: Justin takes his STOL CH 750 light sport aircraft on a cross-country flight with his wheelchair in the rear baggage area:
Justin flies his Zenith CH 750
Justin flies his Zenith STOL CH 701 with Roger Dubbert at the Zenith Aircraft factory:
Great to see AV84ALL's Zenith CH 750 Cruzer fly!!
First Flight: AV84ALL's Zenith CH 750 Cruzer. October 21, 2018
John Robinson's Zenith CH 750 Cruzer, powered by a 130-hp Viking engine (Honda conversion), with adapted hand controls.
"I and five dedicated volunteers from EAA Chapter 1083 have built a Zenith 750 Cruzer airplane. In keeping with our mission goals, we made a few adaptations to make this aircraft accessible for disabled pilots: we adapted the rudder pedals to be manipulated by a control stick located between the pilot's legs. Also located on that same stick is a potentiometer throttle and braking action. Aileron and elevator are controlled by a stick located between the pilot and copilot and is not adapted.
"On Sunday, October 21, all that work payed off when our Zenith left the earth for the first time. It was amazing to see something that was a pile of metal turned into a complex flying machine. I look forward to sitting in the pilot seat, taking the controls, and leaving the earth again."
Background: John Robinson of North Carolina followed his service in the Navy by beginning a career as a law enforcement officer. While driving home from a training session he had an auto accident that resulted in him becoming a quadriplegic. For the independent young man it was not only a devastating physical blow, but an emotional one as well. Instead of being on his own, he was forced to move into his mother's home as he learned how to deal with his new life. But John was determined to make the best of what he had been dealt, and not only earned his masters degree, he taught special education students for a number of years. In 2015 he was awarded an Able Flight scholarship and earned his pilot certificate as a member of Able Flight's "Class of 2015" at Purdue. At a ceremony at EAA AirVenture, John was honored as the 2015 recipient of the Shell Aviation/Able Flight Scholarship.
After becoming a pilot, John realized that finding aircraft to rent with adapted controls (for pilots with disabilities) was difficult, so being the pragmatic problem solver that he is, he decided to do something about it and formed AV84ALL, a charitable organization to "make aviation accessible to all, no matter the disability." He purchased a Zenith CH 750 Cruzer kit and with the help of local EAA Chapter volunteers built and completed the aircraft, powered by a Viking 130-hp Honda-conversion. Jan Eggenfellner of Viking Aircraft Engines traveled to North Carolina to perform the first flight this past Sunday, October 21.
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