Photo by Dave
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.
Flight offers people with disabilities a unique way to challenge
themselves through flight training.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.