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Wounded Iraq Veteran Receives Scholarship

Chris Gschwendtner

Sergeant Chris Gschwendtner couldn’t respond to rescuers after a rocket attack in Baghdad in 2008 and was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury (TBI) that ended his chances for a transfer into an Army flight training program. Back in the states as a member of the Army Reserve, he earned a sport pilot certificate at his own expense and has now won an Able Flight Career Training Scholarship that will enable him to pursue a career in aircraft maintenance.

Chris earned his sport pilot certificate at Chesapeake Sport Pilot at the Bay Bridge Airport near Washington, D.C., where he trained with instructor Helen Woods. Though studying no longer comes as easily as it did when he earned a business degree from Penn State, Chris redoubled his efforts and excelled in his training. Learning to fly fulfilled a childhood dream for Chris and created another—that of becoming an aviation mechanic. As the second recipient of an Able Flight Career Training Scholarship, he will begin training with Carol and Brian Carpenter at Rainbow Aviation in California for certification as a light-sport repairman with a maintenance rating.

Chris plans to use his accomplishments to encourage other wounded veterans to explore aviation as a way to challenge themselves. In his application essay, he wrote, “I feel like if I win this scholarship I can inspire people not to give up. Especially since TBI has become one of the most common injuries resulting from the war on terrorism. I have learned if there is something in life that you want, you have to have the drive to make it happen no matter what. You can make your dreams a reality; no one else is able to do it for you. After having my hopes and dreams crushed I did not accept defeat or give up. I just knew I had to pick myself up and try harder.”

Able Flight is incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and was created by pilots who believe that the life-changing experience of learning to fly is best shared; the group designed the Able Flight Scholarships to enable people with disabilities to pursue that experience. Able Flight’s mission is to offer people with disabilities a unique way to challenge themselves through flight training, and by doing so, to gain greater self-confidence and self-reliance.

There are four types of Able Flight Scholarships. Full Scholarships are designed for people who wish to earn a sport pilot license. Return to Flight Scholarships are for those who have become disabled after already having earned a pilot certificate and now wish to return to flying under the sport pilot rule. Flight Training Challenge Scholarships are for those who can benefit from dual instruction only and have no current plans to seek a sport pilot certificate. Career Training Scholarships are for those who wish to train to earn an FAA-issued repairman certificate (light-sport aircraft) with maintenance rating. Candidates for the scholarships will complete the appropriate application form, including an essay on how they feel the scholarship would change their life.

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