Able Flight Pins Wings On New Pilots

The scholarship winners were honored at EAA AirVenture 2019.

Able Flight scholarship winners
The scholarship winners were pinned by their benefactors on the stage at the Theater in the Woods.Julie Boatman

In 2006, Charles Stites sought a way to help those with disabilities to find their own way into the sky. In 2019, Able Flight has fulfilled that dream and continues to grow.

Able Flight, the charitable organization that delivers flight training opportunities to people with physical challenges, honored its newest pilots and scholarship recipients with a wing-pinning ceremony at EAA AirVenture on Tuesday, July 23. The five participants at the event (of seven total winners) came from across the United States to engage seven weeks of intensive flight training with a special cadre of instructors at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, and the Ohio State Univeristy, in Columbus, Ohio, using aircraft adapted for their use.

The class of 2019 includes Will Bucher, North Carolina; Leslie Irby, Georgia; Samuel Mahoney, Wisconsin; Steven Martinez, Wisconsin; Lt. Colonel Daniel Gade (U.S. Army-retired), Virginia; Joey Moncalieri, U.S. Coast Guard); and Anthony Radetic (U.S. Army-retired). From the group of instructors, an Instructor of the Year, Aaron Ashby, was feted as well. Instructors at Purdue included Ashby, Rachel Jackson, Travis Gowan, Erik Levin, Zach Hill, and Chief Instructor Lucero Duran. Instructors at OSU included Kate Meelhuysen and Joe Schwerdtfeger.

While a number of organizations donate generously to Able Flight, including sponsors Aircraft Spruce & Specialty, Airtex, and Zenith Aircraft, five were on hand to pin the wings on those students who had won scholarships in each company's name. It was a proud moment for ForeFlight, Tempest Plus, Embraer Executive Jets, Shell Aviation, and Muncie Aviation—which presented its first named scholarship this year to Lt.Col Gade.

Also honored at the event was Jon Hansen, who adapted an LSA and donated the aircraft and his time to Able Flight over the years to support the cause. Hansen passed away earlier this year; his family pledges to continue its financial support of Able Flight in his memory.