The class of 2021 includes four men and two women. The sport pilots were originally scheduled to begin their training at Purdue University in 2020, but the intensive program aimed at teaching them to fly light sport aircraft and earn a sport pilot certificate had to be postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In addition to the sport pilots, Steven Curry received his wings for earning a flight instructor certificate. Curry served in the U.S. Army, and in 2006 he lost part of his leg in Iraq. He was able to earn private and commercial certificates and instrument and multiengine ratings. With the help of an Able Flight scholarship, Curry earned his flight instructor certificate, and he now will qualify for a flying position with his employer, according to Able Flight Executive Director Charles H. Stites.
T’angelo Magee started sport pilot training in 2019 and soloed and passed the knowledge test, but an illness hospitalized him before he could finish. He came back in 2021 to pass his checkride. Magee is an Army veteran with multiple combat deployments who became paralyzed because of injuries from a motorcycle accident.
Michael Price had been enrolled in a high school aviation program, and he took an introductory flight in 1997. That same day he became paralyzed from injuries sustained in a car accident. “After that day of highs and lows, Michael thought his dream of becoming a pilot would never be realized,” Stites said.
David Snypes Jr. is an Army veteran who served from 2009 to 2016, including tours in Afghanistan. He lost the use of his left arm in 2016 after being injured as a result of a motorcycle accident. “[B]ut he was not left without an overwhelming desire to meet any challenge he takes on,” Stites said.
Peyton Wolter grew up participating in a variety of outdoor sports. She became paralyzed in 2017 as a result of an injury from a boating accident. After a friend took Wolter for a ride in a general aviation airplane, she said she had finally found something “‘that made me feel like me again,’” said Stites.
Sheila Xu is a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has been a Fulbright Scholar and an intern at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She was born with profound hearing loss in both ears. “She recalls that she led a sheltered life as a child and encountered many people along the way who had low expectations for her success,” Stites said. “It’s pretty obvious that everyone who thought that of Sheila was profoundly wrong.”
Each student had his or her own dedicated flight instructor for the duration of the time they spent at Purdue University learning to fly in specially equipped Sky Arrows. This year’s instructors were Zach Hill, Nicholas Kass, Colleen Finnell, Steven Stoyko, and Aaron Wall. Lucero Duran assisted as a volunteer instructor.