Disabled vets celebrate their ‘Independence Day’ by earning pilots’ wings

June 29, 2015  

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Several disabled pilots will earn pilot certificates at Purdue University this week (July 1 and 2).

Military veterans make up half of this year’s Able Flight. By going through intensive and tailored flight training they are experiencing unprecedented personal freedom and independence by learning to fly solo.

After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, Scot Abrams joined the New York Police Department. While on funeral escort duty, a motorist hit his police motorcycle sending Abrams flying head-first into a city bus. After spending two weeks in a coma and eight weeks in the hospital, the NYPD “Purple Shield” award recipient remains partially paralyzed from the injuries he sustained eight years ago.

“When I first soloed I just got chills. It’s freedom. I can do it. And I’m going to do it — over and over,” said Abrams, who often counsels newly injured veterans, public safety officers and others. “If I can give them some encouragement that there is life after their traumatic injury, that’s all I’m looking for.”

Purdue Able Flight coordinator Wes Major, a program graduate, said Able Flight challenges the disabled to do things they never thought possible.

“Once you get in the sky there is a feeling of unconstrained mobility we do not really get here on the ground,” Major said.

Kenn Ricci, aviation entrepreneur and investor, is donating nearly $500,000 to purchase and maintain a handicap-accessible plane to allow Purdue to expand instruction year-round and lower costs. Purdue is also partnering with aviation leaders like American Airlines, Republic Airways and General Electric to expand the training and create career paths in the aviation industry. The Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes is funding several scholarships to make the life-changing opportunity available to more veterans.

The nonprofit’s David Walker said too many injured veterans face financial hardships that lead to foreclosure, eviction and repossessions. Those pressures can lead to divorce, depression and even suicide.

“Besides emergency aid, we look to provide long-term job and career opportunities,” Walker said. “Buy someone a fishing pole and they get to fish.”

After he earns his sport pilot certificate at Purdue, he will return to New York and pursue a private pilot’s license, which will allow him to fly passengers, including his family.

“When we want a cheesesteak we can all get in the plane and fly down to Philly,” Abrams said. “Who wants to sit in traffic on the Turnpike?”

Able Flight is open to would-be pilots, including civilians, with a wide variety of disabilities. Able Flight’s leading student this year is a 20-year-old undergrad who made it to Purdue after being repeatedly stymied by academic and careers counselors who told him deaf people cannot fly. 

Writer: Jim Schenke, 765-237-7296, jschenke@purdue.edu

Sources: Wes Major, Purdue Able Flight coordinator, wmajor@purdue.edu

Scot Abrams, scot21655@gmail.com

Note to Journalists: Broadcast-quality B-roll, sound bites, and package are available at ftp://news69.uns.purdue.edu/Public/2015AbleFlight. For more information, contact Jim Schenke, Purdue News Service, at 765-237-7296, jschenke@purdue.edu. Able flight instructors and students are also available for interviews in person or electronically.

Related website:

Purdue Polytechnic Institute: https://polytechnic.purdue.edu/

Purdue University, 610 Purdue Mall, West Lafayette, IN 47907, (765) 494-4600

© 2014-18 Purdue University | An equal access/equal opportunity university | Integrity Statement | Copyright Complaints | Brand Toolkit | Maintained by Marketing and Media

Trouble with this page? Disability-related accessibility issue? Please contact us at online@purdue.edu so we can help.