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Able Flight Class of 2017 Earns Its Wings

By Katie Holliday-Greenley

July 25, 2017 - On Tuesday, members of the Able Flight class of 2017 received their wings on stage at Theater in the Woods during EAA AirVenture Oshkosh.

Charles Stites founded Able Flight in 2006 to help people with disabilities experience the freedom of flight. Through full-ride scholarships, Able Flight has helped 40 participants earn their wings.

“We make dreams come true,” Charles said. “We make it possible for people who use wheelchairs, people who’ve lost limbs, people born with a disability, and wounded veterans to become pilots.”

Charles said the program has been successful largely due to the support of ground school and flight instructors who believe in the program and the students.

“These folks give up their summers, their vacations, they volunteer, and actually they work hard to become an Able Flight instructor,” he said. “These are the people who make it happen. We owe them a real debt.”

In addition to the pinning ceremony for the new pilots, several awards were given to instructors and volunteers, including the new Able Flight Extra Effort Award created for an instructor, Allison Hoffman, who went above and beyond to help her student.

“One of this year’s Able Flight pilots is deaf,” Charles said. “So when instructor assignments were being handed out, our instructor volunteered to not only teach that student, but promised to learn enough sign language to provide even better communication.”

In 2017, Able Flight purchased more than 330 hours of aircraft rental over two months, flying students twice a day, when possible, to get them ready for their sport pilot checkride. The class of 2017 consisted of eight newly minted pilots with various stories of struggle and triumph. Kathryn Brenner, for example, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and was told the disease would seriously affect her dreams of becoming a pilot.

“She’s the kind of kid whose fingers you would’ve seen hanging through the airport fence,” Charles said. “Once we met her, we decided to just give her a scholarship and get out of her way.”

Capt. Ferris Butler was critically injured by an IED in December 2006, but this year he was the first to pass his checkride, completing his training at Purdue University. Ferris was followed by Kathryn, Benedict Jones, Zackary Kukorlo, Melissa Allensworth, and Kunho Kim.

In addition to completing Able Flight training, Zackary, who is deaf, recently completed an A&P program in Washington and has achieved his dream of a career in aviation. He received his wings from Patty Wagstaff.

This year, Able Flight added training at Ohio State University after Charles met Josh Fisher — who is now an Able Flight instructor in Waukesha, Wisconsin — while waiting for weather to clear en route to AirVenture. Chris Corsi, who was paralyzed in an accident several years ago, was chosen as the first student to attend training at Ohio State.

“When we selected him [for Able Flight], we also decided that he would be one of the first two students we would send to our new program,” Charles said. “So we were betting a lot on this young man. I’ve seen the cockpit video of his first solo when he was joyously yelling, ‘My plane! My plane!’”

Brice Lott joined Chris at OSU. Brice was also paralyzed in an accident, but he chose to push on and became the first graduate of the OSU Able Flight program.

Congratulations to the Able Flight class of 2017. Applications for 2018 are open until December 31.
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