Crossing Flight Paths With Able Flight (And A Nudge For Aspiring Pilots)

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Here at ForeFlight we live and breathe aviation and we love inspirational aviation-related stories, especially when they hit close to home. We thought we’d take a moment to share this one with you.

Many of you may know Pete Vincent who is one of our fanatical Pilot Support Team members. When Pete is not busy helping ForeFlight customers, he is a flight instructor at Redbird Skyport in San Marcos, Texas (HYI).

Pete recently shared with us that one of his students, Ryan Kelly, is an Able Flight scholarship recipient. ForeFlight has long supported Able Flight, a nonprofit organization that gives aspiring pilots with disabilities the means and opportunity to learn to fly, or to return to flight after becoming disabled. By pure coincidence, Pete became Ryan’s instructor at Redbird when Ryan decided to complete his fixed-wing Private Pilot License.

Staff Sgt Ryan Kelly was wounded in Iraq in 2003 by an IED, however his injury has been no obstacle to his determination to learn to fly. He graciously shared his story with us:

“I’d always wanted to fly but prior to losing my leg I wore glasses and I couldn’t qualify to fly for the Army. After my injury I got lasik and used my VA education benefits to learn how to fly helicopters. My goal was to also learn how to fly airplanes but time and circumstances got in the way. However,  I’m very excited that through the help of Able Flight and the team at Redbird I’ve now been able to continue to pursue my goal of becoming a fixed wing aviator.”

Ryan graduated cum laude from Embry Riddle University in Arizona and also earned his helicopter pilot and helicopter instructor certificates. Ryan’s initial airplane training took place at Philly Sport Pilot, a flight school established by Able Flight graduate Sean O’Donnell of Philadelphia.

Ryan’s scholarship through Able Flight allowed him to obtain a Light Sport license and now, with the help of Pete and Redbird, he passed his fixed-wing Private Pilot check ride on February 6, 2014 (Yay, Ryan!). He looks forward to continuing his flight training to add on commercial and instrument ratings, as well as an instructor certificate so he can help fellow wounded warriors and other disabled people discover all they can accomplish through learning to fly.

Ryan says the biggest challenge he faced early on in his airplane training was learning how to operate toe brakes with the artificial limb, however with the advice of some fellow amputee aviators and a little practice he overcame this challenge. He refers to aviation as “the great equalizer”. On the ground, he may not be able to run as fast or jump as high as someone with two legs, but in the air his prosthetic is a non-issue and he can fly the same as someone with two legs.

Ryan after a patient flight with PHI Air Medical.

The coolest part of Ryan’s story is that he continues to serve as an EMS helicopter pilot for PHI Air Medical. He says he gets to fulfill two passions: flying for a living while at the same time helping the people who live in his community, often on their worst day.

We asked Ryan and Pete to share their advice for aspiring pilots. Here’s what they had to say from both the student and instructor points of view.

Ryan says:

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“Go for it! I love flying and can’t imagine it not being part of my life. It’s hard to describe the feeling of taking to the air when you’re in control of the airplane or helicopter. I really think everyone should at least try it once!”

We couldn’t agree more. Take that introductory flight at your local airport. It may just change your life for the better, and we’d love for you join the pilot community.

Pete offers this advice:

“Learning to fly is one of the most challenging, yet rewarding things you can accomplish in your lifetime. Succeeding as a pilot is not much different than succeeding in school; you will learn to become the Pilot In Command, which means you take responsibility for your own success.

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If you are interested in learning to fly, I recommend investing in a pilot prep course, like those available at Sporty’s, and completing the written test before commencing training. This way, you get the hard part out of the way!

When evaluating flight schools, you should also consider how simulator technology is incorporated into the curriculum. The use of simulators has allowed my students to progress through training faster and retain concepts better between flights. Plus, simulators are cost-effective, and can be flown any day of the week regardless of the weather outside.”

Solid guidance, Pete.

And if you haven’t heard of Able Flight, we encourage you to take a moment to meet the Able Flight pilots. What they have done to inspire themselves and to overcome adversity inspires us and we hope they have the same affect on you, too.

Learn more about Ryan in this AVweb podcast.