Tyler Ryan, Woodbine Municipal Airport (1N4), Woodbine, New Jersey
Major accomplishment: Just weeks before his nineteenth birthday, Ryan passed his checkride with around 40 hours to become Able Flight’s youngest scholarship winner to earn a sport pilot certificate.
Future plans: “I want to go on to air traffic control school,” said Ryan, who is currently a student at Dutchess Community College in Poughkeepsie, New York.
Advice to potential pilots: “At least try it. Before starting, I had doubts, but there is nothing you can’t do.”
It was a daunting challenge for mentor Sean O’Donnell of Wayne, Pennsylvania, to take new student, Tyler Ryan, from zero to pilot in three weeks. What should have been a four-week period was cut short when Ryan’s car window was hit by the wing of a Piper Navajo while being towed by a lineman at the airport.
“It was a small roadblock during crunch time,” said O’Donnell, 30, who became a pilot himself in July 2007. One week down, the pair kept moving forward. “I told him I was going to push him until he couldn’t go anymore,” said O’Donnell. Their longest flight during training was six and one-half hours. “He never broke.”
In October 2006, during his senior year of high school, now-19-year-old Ryan was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident, similar to the motorcycle accident O’Donnell was in at age 17 (“ Pilots: Sean O’Donnell,” November 2007 AOPA Pilot).
“We experienced the same injury level,” said O’Donnell. “I’ve provided both disability mentoring and flying mentoring for Tyler. But there was no hand holding; I wasn’t overly guiding.”
The four-week period is part of the Able Flight scholarship award that Ryan received in April. Able Flight offers scholarships to disabled pilots to learn to fly in the Italian-built Sky Arrow 600 sport aircraft, with factory-installed controls that enable it to be flown entirely by hand.
The scholarship, an all-expenses award, covers ground and flight training, testing, travel, and lodging. Ryan traveled three hours from upstate New York to Philadelphia where he lived while training at Philly Sport Pilot, the flight training operation created by O’Donnell at historic Wings Field.
The best way O’Donnell said he can pass this gift on to others is to “...provide flying resources for people with disabilities in the Northeast. I don’t want to see someone who is completely capable of being a good pilot, like I was, stopped by a mobility issue, which we are smart enough to get around.”
O’Donnell was one of the first Able Flight scholarship winners to earn his sport pilot certificate in 2007.
“It looks like we’re starting with a short deck, but an airplane doesn’t care who flies it,” said O’Donnell. He proved that when he finished a 1,000-mile, seven-city barnstorming tour in July 2008. He met with current and former patients of spinal rehabilitation hospitals, and organizations that serve wounded and disabled veterans to show them the adapted airplanes, and learn first hand what it takes for a person with a disability to learn to fly.
“Like I taught Tyler, disabled or not, it’s about having the diligence to be not just a good pilot, but a great pilot,” said O’Donnell. “Always be positive, always work toward your goal, and don’t let anybody stop you.”