Able Flight welcomed five new sport pilots into the aviation family on July 24 at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
The pilots received scholarships from the organization to receive full training at either The Ohio State University or Purdue University. They trained full time for approximately two months in specially adapted light sport aircraft.
Two certificated flight instructors learned American Sign Language so that they could work with two deaf students, Stites said.
Robert Bartlett of Virginia, a retired U.S. Army staff sergeant, lost an eye and half of his face to an improvised explosive device while on active duty. He has undergone 40 facial surgeries. "He gave greatly to his country and we’re all in his debt," Stites said.
Asher Kirschbaum of Maryland is a recent graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology. Born deaf, Kirschbaum believes his deafness "is a fact, not an obstacle," Stites said. Kirschbaum was the second to pass his checkride, even after mechanical issues in his training aircraft set him back a week in the air.
Kory Puderbaugh of Arizona was the first student to pass his sport pilot checkride. Puderbaugh was born without hands or feet. Stites called him "relentlessly cheerful" and a superb athlete who received a medal at the most recent U.S. Paralympics.
Rob Shardy of Ohio trained at The Ohio State University, flying a Zenith 750 newly equipped with hand controls. Shardy was injured in a car accident and is a paraplegic.
Julia Velasquez of California, who was born deaf, watched airshows as a child and dreamed of becoming the first deaf astronaut. A week into training, she and her flight instructor experienced an off-field landing. There was no damage to the aircraft and the pilots were not injured.
A sixth student, Emily Hupe, was not able to finish the program because of a medical condition.