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Sat, Jul 28, 2007

Able Flight Awards 2007 Scholarships To Student Pilots With Disabilities

Brings Focus To Student, Pilot Needs Of Disabled

By ANN Associate Editor Annette Kurman

It was indeed a special ceremony for the two recipients of Able Flight's 2007 scholarship award winners in AeroShell Square who have been training at AirVenture's own Wittman field. It was also special for the founder and Atlanta's Hansen Air Group who made it all possible.

The two student pilot scholarship recipients for this year are Rob Laurent of Texas, a veteran of the Iraq War who was wounded in battle, losing an eye and part of a hand, and Sean O'Donnell from Pennsylvania, who was paralyzed as the result of an accident 12 years ago.

Rob and Sean have been working towards their Sport Pilot certificates with local instructor Kate Bernard of Clintonville, WI. And it was announced that Sean, a graduate of Villanova University, earned his LSA "wings" and passed his checkride just four days ago. His proud mother pinned them on him during the ceremony.

Said Able Flight Executive Director Charles Stites, "It's been just a year since we publicly announced the founding of Able Flight at AirVenture 2006, and it's been an incredible year."

"We though it fitting to provide this year's winners the opportunity to receive their training at the home of EAA, the organization most responsible for the Sport Pilot Rule  and Light Sport Aircraft category, which has helped make our organization a success."

The presentation was made even more special with the attendance of other Able Flight scholarship recipients, including Brad Jones of Georgia, who recently earned his pilot's license, becoming the first graduate of this unique national program that provides flight training scholarships to individuals with disabilities.

Able Flight encourages people with a variety of disabilities to apply to become an Able Flight Scholar. Applicants must be able to provide proof of disability from their attending physician, be at least 17 years of age, and be able to operate the controls of the training aircraft. Special controls will be available for Able Flight Scholars as needed.

Above all, potential scholarship candidates must be dedicated to the idea that they, too, can change their lives by learning to fly.

The Able Flight Scholarship is an all-expenses paid award, covering ground and flight training, testing, travel and lodging. Applicants must be available to travel for training for a period of between three and four weeks. In the past seven months, Able Flight has awarded six scholarships, two to injured veterans.

O'Donnell was the first Christopher Reeve scholarship winner. Reeve was an accomplished pilot, himself.

Candidates for the scholarship can access an application form from Able Flight's Web site. The application includes an essay on how they feel the scholarship would change their life. Following an initial review, semi-finalists appear for in-person interviews near their home. Able Flight then selects and notifies award recipients.

"To leave the earth in a machine controlled by one's own hand is a life-changing experience," said Stites. "Learning to be a pilot is a challenge, but it is a challenge that once met, transforms the way that people live their lives, and their sense of what is possible."

"Able Flight extends this challenge, and this opportunity, to people with disabilities, for the ability to fly is within the reach of many, and once earned, it is a skill that infuses a person with a self-confidence that enhances their own lives, and the lives of those around them."

Applications for the 2008 Able Flight scholarship are due by January 15, 2008.

Able Flight is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. The organization receives foundation support from the Christopher Reeve Foundation and the O'Donnell Family Foundation. Platinum sponsors of the organization are Jet Aviation, Hansen Air Group, and Perrone Fine Aviation Leather; Gold sponsors are King Schools and Cessna; Bronze sponsors are Electronics International, Gulf Coast Avionics, AIMGroup Two, Webb and Flow Web design, and Sparkchasers Aircraft Services. Bombardier has also come on as a sponsor, as well ad Shell Aviation, the newest sponsor.

What About The Plane?

Pacific Aerosystem introduced the first SLSA Sky Arrow produced for the US market that includes a disabled pilot option. Manufactured by Iniziative Industriali Italiane (3I) in Italy, which has built several versions of the Sky Arrow to meet the different regulation requirements of the world market, the Disabled Pilot Version received its AWC on May 23, 2006.

Although the Disabled Pilot Option has been available on other Sky Arrow models, it became available for the LSA last year. The option allows pilots who cannot operate the rudder pedals with their feet, to apply yaw input with a left side-stick that also includes a throttle control. The standard right side-stick controls pitch and bank, and also has buttons for electric rudder and elevator trim, as well as radio push to talk. The brake levers, as always, are controlled by the right hand. The left side stick can be quickly removed for easy entry and also makes the rudder pedals available to able-bodied pilots.

Hansen Air Group has been instrumental in the Able Flight program, having donated the first LSA to Able Flight and 100 hours off flight training. Hansen Air Group, formed by Jon Hansen as a distributor for LSA, has the goal of making flying fun and affordable again, recognizing early on the enormous potential of the Sport Pilot and LSA initiatives to fulfill this goal. Jon has been on the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) committee, which is responsible for drafting the standards for Light Sport Aircraft, for almost a decade.

"There's no organization like this in the US," said Hansen, who has 60 years in the industry.

The future for Able Flight, along with Hansen, involves designing controls for flight instructors who are disabled so that Able Flight "graduates" can become certified flight instructors, themselves.

"Aviation has been good to me," Hansen said, "and this is my way of giving back."

The Sky Arrow 600 Sport is basically the same design as its older sibling, the FAA Part 23, Sky Arrow 650 TCNS. The model is very similar to those produced by 3I for other countries with Micro-Light and Advanced Ultra-Light classes. Italy's 3I has been manufacturing aircraft since 1947 and is a leader in composite aircraft construction.

Able Flight's mission is to offer people with disabilities a unique way to challenge themselves through flight training, and by doing so, to gain greater self confidence and self-reliance.



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