Chris Corsi, a junior at UNC, was among nine selected this year to receive a full flight scholarship from Able Flight, which he will use to train at Ohio State University this summer.
Corsi said he learned about Able Flight’s scholarship program through a friend who participated in the same program.
“I was injured in a diving accident when I was 17 and checked into Levine Children’s Hospital for rehab.” Corsi said. “There, three and a half years ago, I met Justin Falls, who was volunteering there in spite of his own disability, and he offered to write me a recommendation so I applied after seeing the amazing experience he had last summer.”
Corsi said while applying, he felt a strong sense of what Able Flight’s mission was about, which made him even more excited about the prospect of participating in the program.
“The Able Flight application was essentially a standard application with a twist,” he said.
“They asked ‘how will the Able Flight scholarship change your life’ and that really required some soul-searching to answer, which I think was cool and really goes into the Able Flight mission statement as far as building leadership and confidence in its students and helping them to create change in their lives in the future.”
Corsi said the program will be relatively fast-paced, and he will be learning the written material and logging his hours in the air from mid-May through mid-July.
“And at the end of that, I will be taking my written test as well as my in-the-air test and then will hopefully be attending Able Flight’s wing ceremony at the EAA AirVenture in Wisconsin,” Corsi said.
Charles Stites, the founder of Able Flight, said the nonprofit organization was inspired by a woman who received a scholarship to train as a pilot.
“The way I found out about it was through a magazine I was writing for at the time, published in England, and we did a story on a young woman who had lost one leg and part of her other leg in the bombings in London in 2005,” Stites said.
Stites said Able Flight has stayed true to its mission since being established in 2006.
“If a person does the work to become a pilot, they learn a lot about themselves because there are few times in your life where you’re ever going to be more self-reliant than when you’re in an airplane by yourself,” Stites said. “At the end of the demanding, intensive program, not only have they discovered new things about themselves, but they’ve also realized that they’ve earned it — they earned the license themselves.”
Stites said Able Flight awards scholarships to a variety of individual applicants.
“We’ve had paraplegics, quadriplegics, people with multiple sclerosis, multiple dystrophy, cerebral palsy, amputations — some of whom are combat-wounded veterans,” he said. “We just look at each person individually and look at a number of things about them: how hard would they work and how much do they want to do this.”
Jessica Scharle, a 2008 graduate of the program, said Able Flight has exposed her to unique challenges, such as setting the record for fastest transcontinental flight in a light sport aircraft.
“Shortly after I was licensed, I was asked to participate in a world record opportunity in which my instructor Matt Hansen and I flew a light sport aircraft in one day from Jacksonville, Florida to Gillespie Field near San Diego, California,” she said. “That was a very challenging 19-plus-hour flight that drew upon everything I had ever learned in aviation and then some.”
Scharle also said the Able Flight program provided her with an invaluable support system.
“Learning to fly has had a huge impact of my confidence, and I do not even feel like the same person,” she said. “My instructors would encourage me to continue and help me problem solve, and I never once felt alone in that journey.”