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Planes Adapted with Hand Controls

Able Flight student Kunho Kim and instructor Rob Banta prepare a plane for a morning flight at Purdue University Airport. (Brian Huchel/Purdue News Service)

A retired U.S. Army captain who was wounded in combat by an improvised explosive device is one of seven people at Purdue University working to show that their disabilities will not hold them back from taking to the skies.

Students in this year’s Able Flight program arrived on campus May 22 and got their first look at the Sky Arrow planes. Since then, the group has worked both in the classroom and the skies.

This year’s class also includes a deaf student studying to earn his Airframe and Powerplant certificate to inspect and perform aircraft maintenance; an Indiana man who has no feeling from his chest down as a result of a childhood shooting accident and a native of South Korea who is attending Harvard and is active in accessibility issues for those who travel.

The one similarity is each student – just like the more than 30 before them – faces some kind of physical disability that under normal circumstances would keep them out of the cockpit. But the disability does little to stop them.

Bernie Wulle, an associate professor of aviation technology, said he has seen a variety of students, ranging from some with no experience at all to a past student who had solo piloting experience before being disabled in an accident.

flight training persons with disabilities

Purdue instructor Molly Van Scoy talks flight details with Able Flight student Melissa Allensworth prior to take-off. (Brian Huchel/Purdue News Service)

“The students are always really motivated to learn,” Wulle said. “They’re here for a purpose.”

Participants in this year’s Able Flight program at Purdue are Melissa Allensworth of Irvine, California; Zackery Kukorlo of Moses Lake, Washington; Kathryn Brenner of Antioch, Illinois; Kunho Kim of Cambridge, Massachusetts; Benedict Jones of Bloomington, Indiana; Capt. Ferris Butler of Edwards, Colorado; and Shafeeq Moore of Atlanta, Georgia.

For six weeks, the students learn the nuances of piloting a plane in order to earn a light sport pilot license. The students fly up to three times each day.

Most of the students use Sky Arrow LSA planes that can be adapted for hand controls with the instructor sitting behind the student. Donations led to another Sky Arrow being added to the Able Flight program last year.

The deaf student and his instructor use a different style plane with side-by-side seating that allows for better communication between them.

This is the eighth consecutive year of Able Flight’s partnership with Purdue, the primary training site for the organization.

Able Flight is a national nonprofit organization created by pilots to share the experience of learning to fly and enable people with disabilities to pursue that experience.

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

Able Flight 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.

Members of the Able Flight Board of Directors and Advisory Board include a flight instructor, an Aviation Medical Examiner, a veteran who flies his own plane with the aid of a prosthetic device, and a previous scholarship recipient.

Able Flight™ is incorporated as a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization, and is supported by the generous donations and sponsorships of individuals, foundations and corporations.