Humanity has always seen flight as one of the most sublime images of freedom in motion. It seems almost unfair that our feathered friends get to move about so quickly to wherever they may please. It seems to be nothing short of magical. Piloting an aircraft was a pipedream for wheelchair users for many a year; that is, until 2006.
Charles Stites founded the non-profit group, Able Flight, for the sole purpose of giving those accustomed to wheels a new pair of wings. Able Flight works to give scholarships to people who have physical disabilities for the purpose of obtaining a Sport Pilot license. Some of the group’s funding goes to purchasing special modified aircraft for people with differing needs to have a plane to fly.
Nothing says it better than the mission statement used by foundation: 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.
The program received a special boon in 2010 when a partnership with the premiere Purdue University Department of Aviation Technology took place. Able Flight offers a range of scholarships for students to go learn from the world-class flight instructors at Purdue.
Most flight instruction takes place during the months of May and June, for a total of 5 to 6 weeks. This time covers ground-based classwork and in-flight training, all leading up to the check ride tests. Most flight training is now conducted with Able Flight’s joint training program at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Career training can take place at a number of locations.
The scholarship types range from a full-ride scholarship for those looking to obtain a Sport Pilot license, to those seeking training for a career working on and with Light Sport Aircraft in either maintenance or dispatching. Another scholarship is made available for those who had a pilot’s license and are seeking to get back in the air after an injury.
To see pictures of students in training, and in flight, click here.
The requirements are basic as well. Applicants must be a U.S. citizen seventeen years or older with a disability. Recipients have had disabilities ranging from lost limbs and SCI to congenital birth disorders.
Leonardo Da Vinci captured a strong sentiment for those who admire the sky, Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.
Thanks to Purdue University and Able Flight, being in a wheelchair doesn’t mean just looking into the sky any longer.