The Liberty Gazette
October 20, 2009
October 20, 2009
The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely
Mike: Many years ago when I was in college there were a bunch of us who hung out in the simulator lab classroom. It was the “club” lounge where we socialized, planned flying activities and trips. If you were a pilot, or wanted to be a pilot it was a great place to hang out because we ate, drank and breathed flying. Into our fold one day rolled a girl in a wheelchair. She had fallen off a table when she was a teen and damaged her spinal cord just below her neck. She had some feeling in her legs but could not move them. Her hands and arms worked fine and she wanted to learn how to fly. She attended ground school courses and we took her on trips. I was young flight instructor at a local flight school and she was our first paraplegic student. Due to her financial situation, she was not able to train on a regular basis and eventually stopped training altogether. There was no Able Flight Scholarship at that time.
Linda: Able Flight: It’s about overcoming obstacles, conquering circumstances, and finding that even the sky is really no limit. 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 non-profit organization (www.AbleFlight.org) was created by pilots who believe that the life-changing experience of learning to fly is best shared, and designed the Able Flight Scholarships to enable people with disabilities to pursue that experience.
Pilot, Charles Stites, founded Able Flight in 2006 and serves as Executive Director. A writer/photographer for many U.S. and European aviation publications, Charles has an impressive background in transitional employment, media, and volunteer coordinator positions in the corporate world. In talking with him about Able Flight pilots, Charles told me, “People are often amazed that someone with a physical disability can become a pilot, but they shouldn't be. There's a long history of people with spinal cord injuries and other challenges learning to fly. Now, with a new FAA license called Sport Pilot, specially-adapted airplanes, and our scholarships, the door has been opened to even more people with disabilities to do what many able-bodied people have never even imagined. These are capable people; they are achievers who don't become pilots with disabilities, they just become pilots.”
Serving on the Board of Directors are Bob Epting, an attorney and a pilot with an extensive background in charitable aviation activities, Jon Kuniholm, a Marine Corps Captain wounded in Iraq in 2005, losing his right arm from beneath the elbow. Just prior to his deployment to Iraq, he had earned his private pilot certificate. Since his injury, he has regained medical privileges and flies with the aid of a prosthetic arm. Also on the Board are Steve Merritt, Projects Manager at the North Carolina Division of Aviation, an FAA Aviation Safety Counselor and a flight instructor; and Dr. Al Mooney, an FAA Certified Aviation Medical Examiner and flight instructor. But it’s the Able Flight Scholarship winners who are the real story.
Mike: You’re going to love the upcoming accounts of achievement, of determination, of victory, as we highlight some of the scholarship winners and retell their incredibly inspirational stories. Till then, blue skies.
Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com.