Weight-shift controlled LSA flight to promote blind judo

September 2, 2009

Imre Kabai tested a wing for his weight-shift controlled light sport aircraft before a flight across the United States to benefit the Blind Judo Foundation Imre Kabai tested a wing for his weight-shift controlled light sport aircraft before a flight across the United States to benefit the Blind Judo Foundation.

A California pilot has set out on a journey around the United States in a weight-shift controlled light sport aircraft to promote an organization that introduces the sport of judo to the blind and visually impaired.

Imre Kabai, a computer engineer, said his whole family is involved in judo, and he learned about the Blind Judo Foundation while his children were training in the dojo of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic judo coach Willy Cahill, co-founder of the foundation. The Blind Judo Foundation is dedicated to introducing the sport of judo to blind and visually impaired young people. Kabai decided to combine his interest in aviation and his interest in the martial art with a fundraiser flight to promote the foundation.

“I wanted it to be a little bit more than just having fun,” Kabai said. Last year, he raised money with a flight around California in an ultralight powered hang glider; this year, his goal is to fly across the United States and back in a slightly larger aircraft.

Kabai departed from California on Sept. 1 and plans to fly about 300 miles a day in the weight-shift controlled light sport aircraft, which travels at about 55 mph. He sleeps in a tent he carries with him along with minimal supplies. He is tracking his flight on a Web site and is filming the flight for a video that he plans to sell afterward to raise money for the Blind Judo Foundation.

Kabai, his wife, and his four children all participate in judo; and Kabai said that while none of his family is blind, he was impressed with blind judo athletes and took an interest in the sport. Judo is all about balance and using the other person’s energy, Kabai said, and so a blind athlete could compete with sighted opponents without a serious disadvantage. U.S. competitors have been highly successful in the Paralympics but have not received as much support or media coverage as their sighted Olympic counterparts; this flight is an effort to draw attention to the sport.

The flight is also intended to draw attention to a lesser-known aviation feat: the first controlled glider flight. Kabai plans to stop at Otay Mesa in California, the site of John Montgomery’s 1883 glider flight, as well as the more famous site of the Wright brothers’ 1903 flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C. The rest of the flight will depend heavily on weather, but Kabai hopes to see a number of landmarks on his coast-to-coast journey.

Kabai said he has been flying since age 15: first gliders, then paragliders, and then powered hang gliders. For his fundraiser last year, he flew an ultralight at about 38 mph—“like a moped in the air.” This year, the weight-shift controlled light sport aircraft will allow him to fly farther and faster.

“I felt I would like to do something longer, and the U.S. has so many beautiful places to see from the air,” he said.