Able Flight Executive Director Charles H. Stites told their stories as a crowd gathered at the main stage in the Boeing Plaza, pausing briefly as a huge formation of warbirds thundered overhead.
Her expression serene, undisturbed by the racket of round motors overhead because of profound hearing loss, Shavon McGlynn was the lone member of the eight accepting their wings who stood through the ceremony. Among the challenges for her to overcome had been communicating with the tower using light gun signals, a routine she undoubtedly now knows better than the vast majority of her fellow GA pilots. Patty Wagstaff, an AOPA ambassador and three-time national aerobatic champion, pinned a set of wings on the young pilot, who also has received other honors, including the dean’s list at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.
Waiting in the wings of the stage, Sgt. Adam Kisielewski, who earned a sport pilot certificate in 2012 through Able Flight, and has since gone on to become an instrument-rated private pilot, stood by to pin wings on a fellow military veteran and Able Flight scholarship recipient, Chris Sullivan.
Kisielewski, now a member of the organization’s advisory board, said he has come “full circle,” and that it was a particular honor to affix Able Flight wings to a fellow serviceman. He also explained what drove him to continue his own aviation training: “I got into aviation to go places,” he said following the ceremony.
Stites predicted Kisielewski would not stop at an instrument rating.
“The next time you see him, he’ll probably be in the astronaut program,” Stites said. He later noted that all of Able Flight’s scholarship recipients are highly motivated, many if not most eager to help others follow the same path, and the young instructors from Purdue University report the Able Flight trainees stand out as their “best students.”
They also pass the same tests and meet the same standards as all pilots.
“They’re really not all that disabled,” Kisielewski said. “It’s just about finding other ways to go about it.”