June 5, 2017

Able Flight program takes off with new group of disabled pilots

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — A retired U.S. Army captain who was wounded in combat by an improvised explosive device is one of seven people at Purdue University working to show that their disabilities will not hold them back from taking to the skies.

Students in this year’s Able Flight program arrived on campus May 22 and got their first look at the Sky Arrow planes. Since then, the group has worked both in the classroom and the skies.

This year’s class also includes a deaf student studying to earn his Airframe and Powerplant certificate to inspect and perform aircraft maintenance; an Indiana man who has no feeling from his chest down as a result of a childhood shooting accident and a native of South Korea who is attending Harvard and is active in accessibility issues for those who travel.  

The one similarity is each student – just like the more than 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.

Bernie Wulle, an associate professor of aviation technology, said he has seen a variety of students, ranging from some with no experience at all to a past student who had solo piloting experience before being disabled in an accident. 

vanscoy able Purdue instructor Molly Van Scoy talks flight details with Able Flight student Melissa Allensworth prior to take-off. (Brian Huchel/Purdue News Service) Download image

“The students are always really motivated to learn,” Wulle said. “They’re here for a purpose.”

Participants in this year’s Able Flight program at Purdue are Melissa Allensworth of Irvine, California; Zackery Kukorlo of Moses Lake, Washington; Kathryn Brenner of Antioch, Illinois; Kunho Kim of Cambridge, Massachusetts; Benedict Jones of Bloomington, Indiana; Capt. Ferris Butler of Edwards, Colorado; and Shafeeq Moore of Atlanta, Georgia.

For six weeks, the students learn the nuances of piloting a plane in order to earn a light sport pilot license. The students fly up to three times each day.

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 another Sky Arrow being added to the Able Flight program last year.

The deaf student and his instructor use a different style plane with side-by-side seating that allows for better communication between them.

This is the eighth consecutive year of Able Flight’s partnership with Purdue, the primary training site for the organization.

Able Flight is a national nonprofit organization created by pilots to share the experience of learning to fly and enable people with disabilities to pursue that experience.

Class of 2017 graduates will be guests of honor when they receive their Able Flight wings on stage at EAA AirVenture in July in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. 

Writer: Brian L. Huchel, 765-494-2084, bhuchel@purdue.edu 

Source: Bernie Wulle, 765-494-9973, wulleb@purdue.edu

Note to Journalists: Broadcast-quality B-roll is available at https://drive.google.com/open?id=0BxdPFMVWz-l2UElfUlc5M1ZlVTQ. All of the pilots are available for interview.

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