Online Community of Zenith Builders and Flyers
One of my favorite aviation organizations is Able Flight, a charity whose mission is "to offer people with disabilities a unique way to challenge themselves through flight and aviation career training, and by doing so, to gain greater self-confidence and self-reliance."
To learn more about Able Flight, listen to this recent SimpleFlight podcast, Inspiration At Its Best, Able Flight, March 25, 2018, with Able Flight founder and executive director Charles Stites and Justin Falls, quadriplegic pilot and Able Flight graduate. (Also, watch this video about Justin learning to fly with Able Flight)
Above, Justin Falls (left) with Charles Stites (right) discuss hand control adaptation with Matt Heintz
Able Flight is a success story thanks (in large part) to Sport Pilot and Light Sport Aircraft, since many pilots with disabilities are unable to get a conventional third class medical.
At the Zenith Aircraft factory we've been working with Justin Falls to convert and customize an existing STOL CH 750 SLSA to hand controls. Justin is a full-time pharmacist and Able Flight graduate, who also happens to be quadriplegic. We've been working with Justin to convert a Zenith CH 750 to hand controls so that he may fly his own airplane.
Justin is planning to purchase this adapted CH 750, and plans to share his airplane with fellow pilots (with disabilities) and to make it available to train new Able Flight pilots. The STOL CH 750 is an original S-LSA, powered by the 100-hp Continental O-200.
Above and below: Justin flies the CH 750 with hand-controls: The rudder is controlled with a push-pull stick between his legs, which also has a throttle servo control and hand brake. The right side Y-stick is standard equipment.
Another Able Flight graduate we've been privileged to work with is John Robinson, who is also a quadriplegic pilot. John has partnered with his local EAA chapter, and together with the chapter members they are building a Zenith CH 750 Cruzer with adapted hand controls. Read about their progress and updates on their Facebook page.
John founded his own non-profit organization, AV84ALL, to "foster a community of disabled aviators and disabled aviation enthusiasts that will participate in the mainstream world of general aviation through education, hands-on training, and inclusion, to overcome the many obstacles we face."
Partnerships with able-bodied groups like EAA chapters with pilots with disabilities is beneficial to not only the pilot but also to the EAA chapter itself, which benefits greatly by giving the group worthwhile aviation projects to be working on, and a great aviation cause to support. Providing the skills and manpower to help build a kit airplane for a pilot who is unable to do so (whether a physical disability or maybe even older age, or lack of skills or time) is a way that many EAA chapter members can give back to the aviation community, sharing their skills, abilities and experience.
While Able Flight pilots typically have noticeable disabilities, they all share the same desire (and ability) to fly that we all have, and I have learned that we all have disabilities (of varying degrees) to overcome, especially as we age! I find the Able Flight pilots' enthusiasm and dedication to be inspirational to all of us, and they put all of our challenges (and disabilities) into proper perspective.
"Experimental - Amateur-Built" aircraft (kit airplanes) are also well suited for pilots with disabilities: as "one of a kind" airplanes the builder can fully customize the airplane for their specific needs, with the freedom to modify the controls (and anything else on the airplane) as needed.
As mentioned above, the Sport Pilot certificate allows many pilots with disabilities to fly (who may be unable to get a conventional third class medical).