Combat veteran solos LSA

March 15, 2012

Adam Kisielewski solos Adam Kisielewski successfully completes his solo as Dean Stickell, his trainer, looks on.

Able Flight scholarship winner Adam Kisielewski, a former U.S. Marine sergeant who lost his left arm and part of his right leg in combat in Iraq, made his initial solo flight on March 14.

Dean Stickell Dean Stickell watches with obvious pride and satisfaction as Adam flies his first solo.

Dean Stickell, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, Vietnam War veteran, and CFI, is preparing Kisielewski to become a sport pilot and watched him make three textbook takeoffs and landings at Frederick Municipal Airport in Maryland. As Kisielewski prepared to make his first solo takeoff, Stickell said he wasn’t concerned or anxious at all about the outcome.

“I don’t have any qualms whatsoever,” said Stickell, 70, who soloed at the same airport on his sixteenth birthday in 1957. “I’m excited for Adam, and it’s a pure joy to watch him solo.”

Stickell said he wondered when he took on the task of training Kisielewski whether he would be able to perform stall recoveries, go-arounds, and other critical tasks without a left arm and prosthetic right leg. But during about 15 hours of pre-solo flying, Stickell said his questions were answered.

“Adam just finds a way,” he said. “Whenever he confronted an obstacle, he told me, ‘Don’t worry. I can do this.’ And then he would find a way.”

Kisielewski uses an iPad strapped to his left thigh for checklists and charts because folding and unfolding VFR sectionals in the airplane is problematic. He clamps the joystick between his knees when he adjusts the throttle, and he flies the airplane with precision and fluidity.

The only modification made to the CTLS he is using for sport pilot training is the addition of a bicycle-style hand brake on the joystick. But in practice, he uses the standard center-mounted hand brake because he finds it easier to apply smoothly.

Stickell shakes Kisielewski's hand after his solo Stickell shakes Kisielewski's hand after his solo.

After an outwardly uneventful initial solo on an unusually warm and sunny afternoon, Kisliewski said he was elated.

“I’m pretty even-keeled—but this is the most excited I’ve been in a very long time,” he said. “I see lots of room for improvement in my flying, but my second landing was pretty good. I don’t know if I can do much better than that.”

Kisielewsi said learning from Stickell, a former YF-16 test pilot, is a privilege that he deeply appreciates.

“There’s an unspoken bond there because we’re both combat veterans, even though we served in far different places and times,” he said. “Flying with him makes a special experience like this even more memorable.”

Editor’s note: AOPA Senior Editor Dave Hirschman is a CFII and is assisting Stickell in training Kisielewski.

Traditional solo ceremony cutting Kisielewski's shirttail Dave Hirschman (left) and Dean Stickell (right) cut off Adam's shirttail in a traditional solo ceremony. The shirttail will be dated and signed as memento of Adam's initiation into the ranks of pilots in command.