SUN VALLEY, ID – Today, five veterans are taking to the skies to learn to paraglide. What is different about these veterans is that they all have spinal cord injuries (SCI) and do not have the use of their legs.

They will be learning to fly in an adaptive flight chair at a training camp in Sun Valley, enabling the veterans to, eventually, fly solo. In this week’s training camp, the veterans will be flying in both the original flight chair, the Phoenix 1.0, and an improved flight chair, the Phoenix 1.5.

The original Phoenix 1.0, was developed and built under the direction of Dr. Don Bloswick by four M.E. undergraduate students. Professor Bloswick and design team member Bryon Densley will be at the training camp on Tuesday and Wednesday working with the vets. Densley was on the original Phoenix 1.0 team along with M.E. undergrads 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. Dr. Andrew Merryweather and Faris Ali, who recently started his Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering at the U, were instrumental in the design and fabrication of the new Phoenix 1.5.

Training for the five SCI Veterans began this morning and will continue until Wednesday. During the first day of training, the vets will be learning about paragliding: how the paraglider works and functions and how to pilot it. Those skill swill then be applied as they learn how to paraglide about 3 feet off the ground. The next step is to take several tandem flights with certified instructors. The training team hopes to have the veterans off the ground and flying solo by Wednesday. Mark Gaskill, from ABLE Pilot, is directing the SCI Veteran training course in Sun Valley. He is a trained solo and tandem pilot and has been working in the area of paragliding for disabled persons for several years. Gaskill has developed the overall paragliding training program for persons with disabilities and was the person who initially came to the U of U team with the idea to develop the adaptive flight chair. 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.” For more information about the development of this project, please see the previous article, Paragliding for Everyone.