Adaptive Aviation: Learn to Fly After a Spinal Cord Injury
Humans for centuries have been enamored by flight. For those not afraid, there's nothing more exhilarating than being up in the sky, and even more so when you're piloting your own aircraft. There are hundreds of people with disabilities around the globe who have their pilot's license, and many fly airplanes using hand controls. While adaptive flight schools are far and few between, they do exist. Check out the best around the world below.
For those with disabilities near North Carolina, Able Flight is a wonderful nonprofit located in Chapel Hill. Founded in 2006 by Charles H. Stites, a pilot without a disability who wanted to help people with disabilities enjoy the freedom of flying, they offer Able Flight scholarships that enable people with disabilities to pursue their pilot's license. Since the creation of Able Flight, they have helped dozens of people with disabilities become licensed pilots.
Specifically, they help people earn their Sport Pilot certificate. If awarded the scholarship, you must be able to travel to North Carolina for training for 6 to 8 weeks sometime between mid-May and early July. Training consists of ground and flight training and testing, which are all covered by the scholarship. It also covers travel and lodging expenses. Applications for the scholarship can be found on their site and applicants are chosen once each year.
Learn more: https://ableflight.org/
Freedom's Wings International
If you live in New Jersey and want to learn how to fly a glider airplane (a plane with no engine that is towed into the sky by a traditional airplane, then unhitched), check out Freedom’s Wings International. A nonprofit located in Summit, New Jersey, teach people with disabilities everything that is needed to become a licensed glider pilot. All of this is provided free of charge if you're selected by the organization.
Many of their instructors are pilots with disabilities as well, which can be very inspiring to the students. Freedom’s Wings provides flight training, ground training, and individual study. The flying season runs from April 1st to December 1st (they can come to you if coming to New Jersey is not possible). To be chosen for the program, you can reach out to them via their site. All potential students are screened by flight instructors.
Learn more: https://www.freedomswings.org/
Wheelies with Wings
A flying program based in Australia and reserved for those with disabilities living in Australia (sorry visitors), Wheelies with Wings is a unique adaptive flying program since it offers two different ways to fly with their program. First, you can practice flight training with a certified pilot/instructor. Wheelies with Wings offers a 2-week flight training program (offering 15 hours max of instruction).
Additionally, they offer more extensive flight training if you want to pursue your pilot’s license. Students for this extended training are chosen by the instructors. They can also help you self-fund your own flight training if you are not chosen, or if you want to move forward with more training right away. To fund their flight experiences, they offer a scholarship. Australian residents can also apply for a scholarship with the state medical system, NDIS.
Learn more: https://wheelieswithwings.com.au/
If you have a child with a disability, or if you're under the age of 21, Challenge Air located in Texas is a great option to learn about flying and co-pilot an aircraft with a licensed pilot. Founded in 1993 by Rick Amber, a quadriplegic and a former pilot in the US Air force, he was inspired to found Challenge Air a year after taking a group of kids with disabilities on an airplane ride. Sadly, Rick passed away in 1997, but his foundation is still going strong.
To fly with Challenge Air, you do not have to be in Texas. They have "Fly Days" in cities across the country. To see if your city is on their yearly schedule, or to attend one close to you, you can check out the Events page on their site. They have hosted Fly Days in cities like Spokane, Kansas, Chattanooga, Denver, and Atlanta. To fly with the program, you must register via the "Register now" button located on each individual event.
Learn more: https://www.challengeair.com/
Freedom in the Air
If you live in the United Kingdom, Freedom in the Air offers disabled pilot training to help people with disabilities obtain their private pilot's license or their national private pilot's license. They also offer more casual training if getting a license is not your end goal. Founded in 2007, this nonprofit's mission is to help people with disabilities have access to flying.
While this organization is a nonprofit, they do not offer flight training for free. To obtain your pilot license through their training program, the cost is roughly $4,800.
Learn more: https://www.freedomintheair.org/
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