Veterans with Spinal Cord Injuries Learn to Fly

Story by Morgan Heath

The University of Utah Department of Mechanical Engineering and ABLE Pilot have come together to hold trainings for people with spinal cord injuries to learn to paraglide. The training will be held in Sun Valley, Idaho this weekend; five veterans with spinal cord injuries will be the first to test out the paragliders.

Mark Gaskill, from ABLE Pilot, will direct the training and has developed the overall paragliding training program. Gaskill said, “ABLE Pilot is an organization committed to getting people with spinal cord injuries, amputations and neuromuscular diseases safely into the air, piloting and flying with the minimum amount of assistance.” Gaskill initially came to the U. of U. team with the idea to develop an adaptive flight chair.

The adaptive flight chair or the Phoenix 1.5 was developed by four M.E. undergraduate students: Bryon Densley, Chris Graves, Travis Smith and Ben Davidson. All four students graduated with bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering in the spring of 2010, but Densley is continuing to work on the Phoenix project for his master’s degree research.

The training for the five SCI Veterans will begin on Friday and will continue until Monday at the training camp in Sun Valley. The first day will consist of the veterans learning about paragliding the days following will learn how the paraglider works and its functions. The veterans will take several tandem flights with certified instructors and fly solo by Monday.

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