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EAA AirVenture Today is published by the Experimental Aircraft Association for EAA AirVenture from July 27 - August 3. It is distributed free on the convention grounds as well as other locations in Oshkosh and surrounding communities. Stories and photos are copyrighted 2008 by EAA AirVenture Today and EAA. Reproduction by any means is prohibited without written consent.

  

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The official daily newspaper of EAA AirVenture Oshkosh


Volume 9, Number 3 July 29, 2008     

Pilots living a full and Able Life
By Kristy Hemp

Photo by Dave Higdon

"The world of flight is not just for the able people." That’s what sport pilot Sean O’Donnell said after arriving at AirVenture Monday morning in his Sky Arrow 600 Sport. Sean, of Philadelphia and an Able Flight Scholarship winner, flew in on the final leg of the Ability Barnstorming Tour sponsored by the Wolf Aviation Fund, Hanson Air Group, and Philly Sport Pilot.

Able Flight offers people with disabilities a unique way to challenge themselves through flight training.

Sean arrived with fellow sport pilot Brad Jones. They are both the first to become sport pilots through the Able Flight Scholarship program. Sean and Brad both use wheelchairs due to spinal cord injuries suffered in vehicle accidents, and flew in with a matched set of specially adapted Sky Arrows.

So how did he get the aviation bug? Sean was 29 years old when he thought, "What else can I do in my life." When he was a little kid, he definitely had the desire to fly. He said that while most kids think flying is neat, Sean looked at airplanes and couldn’t wait to learn.

The search for an airplane that would fit his needs started a year and a half ago. While looking, Sean found a plane that Able Flight was using and called them to ask about it. During the conversation, Able Flight encouraged him to apply for its scholarship for disabled pilots.

Able Flight Scholarship winners receive a complete King Schools Sport Pilot knowledge course, and learn to fly a light-sport aircraft during an intensive one-month course. The program consists of 25-30 flight hours and a comprehensive ground study course. Sean trained in a four-week program in Oshkosh, and soloed on July 13, 2007.

On opening day of AirVenture 2007, Sean earned his sport pilot certificate. He bought a plane, the Sky Arrow 600 Sport, in February 2008 to train others and those in the scholarship program. The first person he took flying was Bob McAndrew, an aerobatic pilot who flies a Pitts. Ironically, the flight that sparked Sean to get his certificate was with Bob. Sean plans on getting his sport pilot instructor rating, and then his private pilot certificate.

Sean celebrated his 30th birthday on July 19, which was also the day they started their tour to the cities of Atlanta, Knoxville, Dayton, Champaign, Waukesha, and finally Oshkosh. Their goal was to bring their stories and airplanes to as many people as possible as they traveled to Oshkosh.

In airport events at each location, they met with current and former patients of spinal rehabilitation hospitals, and organizations that serve wounded and disabled veterans. Sean said that he’s met a lot of people that have affected him. "One person in particular could not speak, but his eyes said everything. He had a computer attached to his neck and he typed ‘thank you.’ It was a small message but it said so much." The message Able Flight would like to give is that nothing is insurmountable.

The Sky Arrow 600 Sport is built to accommodate both able and disabled pilots. The controls are in the pilot’s hands at all times. Disabled pilots add a T-bar to the left side of the cockpit. Forward motion is right rudder, pulling back is left rudder, and a twist and push motion is your throttle. The right side of the cockpit has a side stick for the ailerons, and push buttons on the stick for the trim. Sean says, "The airplane doesn’t care who is flying–it’s not discriminating."

The Ability Barnstorming Tour is being funded in part through a grant provided by the Wolf Aviation Fund, and the aircraft have been made available by Hansen Air Group and Philly Sport Pilot, companies that provide training for Able Flight Scholarship winners. For more information, go to www.ableflight.org.

FUTURE AIRVENTURE DATES: 2014: July 28-Aug. 3; 2015: July 20-26; 2016: July 25-31; 2017: July 24-30
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