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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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,
"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
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.