Pilots with disabilities soar via Able Flight program at Purdue: BTN LiveBIG

Pilots with disabilities soar via Able Flight program at Purdue: BTN LiveBIG

As the Sky Arrow trainer aircraft taxis to the runway of the Purdue University Airport, the pilot performs a final pre-flight instrument check. The sky is dotted with puffy clouds and the sun is shining bright on this calm, early summer afternoon in West Lafayette, Indiana. Cleared for takeoff, the pilot throttles up and leaves the ground. It’s textbook in every way save for one: the pilot is deaf.

Since 2006, the Able Flight program has been providing scholarships and training that allow people with a range of disabilities to fulfill their dreams of flying. And, every year, from May through July, Purdue plays host to the program, welcoming another class of aviators, some deaf, some missing limbs, others who require the use a wheelchair, but who all share a passion for planes and the open sky.

BTN LiveBIG got a chance to speak (with the help of an ASL interpreter) with Able Flight student Raymart Tinio. We discussed his dream of flying, the thrill of the throttle, and what’s next on his journey of flight.

BTN LiveBIG: Have you always wanted to fly?

Raymart Tinio: Oh yes, since high school. I thought, “Okay, maybe I could do that.” Then I thought I could possibly continue to progress and become a professional pilot.

BTN LiveBIG: Do you run into situations where people are skeptical of your abilities because you cannot hear?

Tinio: Yes, for several years people thought that the deaf could not do different things. I’m like, “Oh no, of course [we] can.” There are so many airlines that use other types of communication for the air traffic controller. I’ve proved people wrong and people are amazed that, wow, yes he can.

BTN LiveBIG: What is your ultimate goal?

Tinio: I want to become an airline transport pilot and I would love to be able to fly a [Boeing] 747. Oh my goodness, that’s my favorite. It’s fast, it’s smooth, it’s powerful; that’s my dream.

BTN LiveBIG: What does it feel like when you’re in the air?

Tinio: When I’m flying, I feel like I can do it. Maybe people thought [the] deaf can’t, and I can and I enjoy it so much; just seeing all of the world and everything, it’s a nice feeling. It’s sweet and I can imagine that I could work like this forever.

BTN LiveBIG: What has the Able Flight program meant to you?

Tinio: Able Flight [has been] very helpful and very supportive. They allowed me to become a pilot and to make my dream possible. They gave me a big opportunity.

BTN LiveBIG: Do you have any favorite memories from your time here at Purdue?

Tinio: I remember last year when I first arrived here for Able Flight. It was my first flight training. It was a new experience with a certified flight instructor by my side and when we took off and went full throttle, oh my goodness, I could just feel the excitement and the vibrations in the air. It felt the same inside. It’s something I’d been wanting for years and years. In the past, I’d been frustrated, but now, because of Able Flight school, everything took off from there for me.

With additional reporting by Tom Sandak.


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