AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 22

PROFICIENT PILOT
Blind flying
An unusual student offers the instructor
lessons, too
BY BARRY SCHIFF
A FELLOW FLIGHT instructor recently asked if I could recall my most
unusual student. " That's an easy one, " I replied. " His name was
Tom Sullivan, and what made him so unusual was that he had
been blind since birth. "
Despite his lifelong disability-or perhaps because of it-
Sullivan learned to attack life with a zest and determination
rarely found in sighted people. He not only attended Harvard
University but also graduated with his name on the Dean's
Honor List. Inclined toward sports as well as academia, Sullivan
competed against sighted students to become an amateur U.S.
National Wrestling Champion. He also earned accolades as a professional
singer, composer, and author.
Perhaps most remarkable is that Sullivan made 37 parachute
jumps, of which many were free falls. As far as I am concerned, a
voluntary leap from an airworthy airplane requires more resolution
than I would care to muster. " Sighted people, " he says, " are
frightened by what they see. I obviously have no such hang-up. "
Sullivan did pose a unique problem for instructors at the jump
school. After all, how could a blind jumper steer toward the drop
zone and judge his height above the ground in preparation for
landing? The solution was simple yet effective. A small, portable
VHF receiver was installed in Sullivan's helmet, and an observer
on the ground would transmit instructions. The system worked
well until Sullivan's thirty-seventh and final jump. Shortly after
bailing out and savoring the ecstasy of free fall, Sullivan noticed
that his earphones were unusually quiet-no static, no instructions,
nada. The radio had failed! He quickly located and tugged at
the D-ring attached to his ripcord. Seconds later his body jerked
convulsively in response to the blossoming chute.
As he dangled helplessly and drifted in lonely darkness,
Sullivan could feel the tightening grip of terror. He had no idea
when or what or how he would hit. The agonizing seconds
passed slowly, and Sullivan could only imagine the terrible fate
rushing to meet him. Miraculously, Sullivan landed in a tree that
broke his fall and enabled him to escape serious injury. Although
this incident dampened his enthusiasm for skydiving and taught
him not to tempt the fates so daringly, he continued with tamer
sports such as golf, horseback riding, and jogging.
Given his penchant for new experiences, I was not surprised
when he asked if I would arrange for him to try his hand
22
AOPA PILOT / August 2021
at flying-literally. So it was that I found myself guiding Sullivan
through a walk-around inspection of a Piper Cherokee Six.
I had him feel and move the control surfaces, teaching him
something of what he would be doing when moving the flight
controls in flight. His grasp of these fundamentals was surprisingly
astute, perhaps because of his childhood familiarity with
model airplanes.
Following my instructions, Sullivan started the engine and
called ground control for a clearance. His first and simplest task
would be taxiing. Using only the commands " right, left, more
power, less power, straight ahead, and slow down, " I could guide
him toward the runup area.
I soon talked Sullivan onto the runway, had him advance
the throttle, and advised him to soften rudder-pedal usage as
we accelerated. Following my suggestion, he gingerly raised the
nose, and we were airborne. I cannot begin to describe the glee
that spread across his face as he realized that he had caused us
to break free of gravity.
During climb I obviously had to assist here and there, but all
things considered, Sullivan did a fine job in response to verbal
commands. In level flight he maintained altitude reasonably well
and without guidance because of his keen sense of hearing. At the
slightest increase in airspeed (wind noise) he would apply noseup
back-pressure and vice-versa. (Do not tell him that I had to
nudge the rudder pedals now and again to keep us on an even keel.)
The landing, of course, was challenging, and there was no
way for me to talk him down without a frequent helping hand,
but he did his best under trying circumstances. OK. So, we landed
with a bit of a thump. I have made worse landings on my own.
As we returned to the ramp, Sullivan was all smiles, obviously
elated with having maneuvered an airplane even though he knew
he could never do it perfectly or alone. " It's not so important to master
something, " he said, " but it's awfully important that you try. "
" You'd make a lousy pilot, " I chided Tom. " You were so preoccupied
with flying the airplane that you never once looked out
the window for traffic. "
He burst into laughter
and promised not to make
the same mistake again.
BarrySchiff.com
BARRY SCHIFF began flight
instructing when he was 18
and subsequently earned
seven instructor ratings.
http://www.BarrySchiff.com

AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021

Contents
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - Intro
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - BB1
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - BB2
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - Cover1
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - Cover2
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - Contents
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 2
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 3
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 4
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 5
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 6
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 7
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 8
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 9
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 10
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 11
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 13
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 14
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 15
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 16
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 17
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 18
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 19
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 20
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 21
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 22
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 23
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 24
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 25
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 26
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 27
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 28
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 29
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 30
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 31
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 32
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 33
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 34
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 35
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 36
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 37
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 38
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 39
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 40
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 41
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 42
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 43
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 45
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 46
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 47
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 48
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 49
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 50
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 53
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 65
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 66
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 67
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 73
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 76
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - 77
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - Cover3
AOPA Pilot Magazine - August 2021 - Cover4
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