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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

It's An LSA World

Fun, useful, life-changing: LSA proving themselves at work and play

And at the end of the day, Jim Lee was free to power up, find a thermal or cloud street, switch off the engine, and do what none of the other competitors could do: fly on no energy burn at all.

The Magnificent Seven More
Able Flight is a non-profit that donates full scholarships, including flight training and travel and living costs, to people with physical disabilities. And LSA are at the heart of this feel-good story. Executive Director Charles Stites heads the organization founded by pilots who felt that learning to fly is a life-changing experience that's best when shared with others. Members of Able Flight include flight instructors, an Aviation Medical Examiner and pilots who volunteer thousands of hours of free flights and instruction to young people.

In conjunction with Indiana's Purdue University's own aviation program, Able Flight had its best year to date training seven students in its workhorse—specially modified Sky Arrow 600, Flight Design CTLS and SportCruiser LSA. "It's been incredible," says Stites. "Five young people got their sport-pilot licenses. Two others got light-sport repairmen certificates. We had a 100% success rate. In fact, 80% of all our student starts finished, compared to the national average of around 25%.

"There are many reasons for that—financial support, but also a very good support program," Stites says. "Graduates of our programs mentor new students. They're the experts in dealing with physical disability. A student who is paraplegic has 10 or so pilots with similar challenges that they can talk to. It also works that way with flight instructors, who get help from others who've worked with these students."

One scholarship winner, 17-year-old Korel Cudmore, "...has been deaf since birth and reads lips well. She trained in a side-by-side LSA because we knew she'd need to see her instructor for hand signals and writing things down," Stites mentions. When she flew to other airports, emails or text messages prepared ATC for her arrival. Light signals in lieu of radio communications worked just fine.

Wounded veteran Chris Gschwendtner was hired by Chesapeake Aviation immediately after training for a full time-position repairing LSA. "They're very happy to have him," says Stites. "It's our sixth year now; we've built up a wealth of knowledge and adaptations in teaching styles and learning."

The program lives by a singular credo: There's nothing that can't be overcome. "But our instructors are strongly encouraged to never do students favors. It's insulting to the student. They can help with an adaptation but students must pass the same practical test standards as any pilot," Stites says.

"Every single student who's completed training has passed their checkride," Stites concludes. "Examiners tell us they're some of the best-prepared students they see. We're proud of that, and all our pilots. We've licensed 19 to date. We feel we've changed lives, brought people into aviation, and our students are such good role models."


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