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).

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Comment by Zenith Aero on December 4, 2018 at 3:48pm

Here's a recent update: Justin takes his STOL CH 750 light sport aircraft on a cross-country flight with his wheelchair in the rear baggage area:

Comment by Zenith Aero on November 14, 2018 at 8:15pm

Justin flies his Zenith CH 750

Comment by Zenith Aero on November 14, 2018 at 3:46pm

Justin flies his Zenith STOL CH 701 with Roger Dubbert at the Zenith Aircraft factory:

Comment by Zenith Aero on October 25, 2018 at 10:07am

Great to see AV84ALL's Zenith CH 750 Cruzer fly!!

First Flight: AV84ALL's Zenith CH 750 Cruzer. October 21, 2018

John Robinson's Zenith CH 750 Cruzer, powered by a 130-hp Viking engine (Honda conversion), with adapted hand controls.

"I and five dedicated volunteers from EAA Chapter 1083 have built a Zenith 750 Cruzer airplane. In keeping with our mission goals, we made a few adaptations to make this aircraft accessible for disabled pilots: we adapted the rudder pedals to be manipulated by a control stick located between the pilot's legs. Also located on that same stick is a potentiometer throttle and braking action. Aileron and elevator are controlled by a stick located between the pilot and copilot and is not adapted.

"On Sunday, October 21, all that work payed off when our Zenith left the earth for the first time. It was amazing to see something that was a pile of metal turned into a complex flying machine. I look forward to sitting in the pilot seat, taking the controls, and leaving the earth again."

Background: John Robinson of North Carolina followed his service in the Navy by beginning a career as a law enforcement officer. While driving home from a training session he had an auto accident that resulted in him becoming a quadriplegic. For the independent young man it was not only a devastating physical blow, but an emotional one as well. Instead of being on his own, he was forced to move into his mother's home as he learned how to deal with his new life. But John was determined to make the best of what he had been dealt, and not only earned his masters degree, he taught special education students for a number of years. In 2015 he was awarded an Able Flight scholarship and earned his pilot certificate as a member of Able Flight's "Class of 2015" at Purdue. At a ceremony at EAA AirVenture, John was honored as the 2015 recipient of the Shell Aviation/Able Flight Scholarship.

After becoming a pilot, John realized that finding aircraft to rent with adapted controls (for pilots with disabilities) was difficult, so being the pragmatic problem solver that he is, he decided to do something about it and formed AV84ALL, a charitable organization to "make aviation accessible to all, no matter the disability." He purchased a Zenith CH 750 Cruzer kit and with the help of local EAA Chapter volunteers built and completed the aircraft, powered by a Viking 130-hp Honda-conversion. Jan Eggenfellner of Viking Aircraft Engines traveled to North Carolina to perform the first flight this past Sunday, October 21.

Comment by Justin Falls on April 1, 2018 at 1:20pm
Thanks for all of the support for Able Flight and for all the hard work on the hand controls! Zenith is the best!
Comment by Giovanni Chiappa on March 30, 2018 at 12:53am

Fantastic People!!!!

In Italy we have same experience with and

Comment by Toru Hashimoto on March 29, 2018 at 9:06pm

I was deeply moved by more than seeing the Paralympics.

Comment by Thomas Jackson on March 29, 2018 at 6:27pm

WHERE THERE IS A WILL THERE IS A WAY, thanks Zenith for making the way.

Comment by Wayne Woloshin on March 29, 2018 at 5:42pm

Great to see people that want to fly given the chance to fly, fantastic.

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