Freedom's Wings International Inc.
51 Tulip St.
Summit, NJ 07901
By pete golden, 2016-11-12
I grew up in the shadow of freedoms wings, without being aware it existed. The sound of gliders releasing above the house I grew up in, was the soundtrack of my youth. When I left home, my 1st place I lived in as an independent teen, was the house at the next corner down from van zant gliderport. I had taken a flight as a child with my parents as well.
It wasn't until I was in my early 20's that I became aware of freedoms wings existence, purely by accident. That accident being caused by a pothole on the next road over from the one I would take from the house I grew up in, to the airport I would later fly out of. That accident resulted in a spinal cord injury. And that later, when I would discover freedoms wings, was actually 2 weeks after getting out of the hospital following that accident.
I remember that day well, sitting at home (the house I grew up in) feeling this burden of all the things I was told I would never do again, when someone stumbled on an article about freedoms wings, and the fact it was operating out of the airport I grew up just miles from.
This was days before freedoms wings annual picnic, and my 1st ride in a glider.
I started lessons that week!
I continued my lessons until solo, only getting 2 solo flights in before no longer having reliable transportation to continue my lessons. However, my second solo flight I had a wonderful experience thermalling with 4 golden eagles, an experience I later relayed to a Seneca medicine woman mentor, who gave me the name soaring eagle.
Although those early years soaring were cut short, the experience changed my life from the 1st time I left the earth, and my wheelchair far behind It gave me the courage to push the limits of what I could do, spending months off he beaten path in the wilderness, wrestling my chair over boulders and downed trees.
I can even see how my freedoms wings experiences influenced me into a lifetime of volunteering and service to the community.
Now it has been way too many years and I have finally returned to fly again on the wings of freedom. something that has been a strong desire each and every year since my last flights so long ago.
I not only grew up very near the airport I fly from, but was also injured in the same area. Every flight I had would bring back memories, like swimming across the lake with a bee on my finger to save him, or the houses I lived in, the hills I sledded on as a kid, the streets I rode my bike on.. Every single flight was full of memories from the ground below.
But every single flight I took went right over where I was injured. Not once did I look down and think there is where i became disabled. Every memory from a lifetime came back while flying high above my childhood home.. The only thing that never once crossed my mind was "there is where I became disabled".
Out of all the Freedoms Wings members I probably m the only one who ever got to soar above the very spot that caused their disability.. And yet it never once even crossed my mind.
I had good times and bad times growing up in that area. On the ground it is easy to dwell on the bad times. From high above only the good times cross my mind.
Soaring has the power to make even the worse moments of your life disappear, and be forgotten.
By Kris Lapinski, 2017-02-10
I started flying long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. It was in Poland in 1980. Before my 16 birthday I had my mandatory 3 parachute jumps and my first solo flight in 2 seats polish glider-Bocian. I continued my training and earned my silver badge but situation in my local club after government established military law in Poland to squash democratic movement, forced me to quit flying. In that time in my country training was free because flying clubs were financed by the military. Trainee was accepted only after rigoristic medical exams. As a young man I dreamed to be a fighter pilot but as a older, 19 years old I realized that I do not want to serve in a military which may be used against a democratic movement. Joining a military was a very unpopular among young people then.
I returned to flying in USA in 1995. I earned my single engine private license year later and instrument rating year after. In 1999 during my commercial, CFI and CFII (flight instructor and flight instructor-instrument) training I went to ski in NY state and I had accident and sustained spinal cord injury. Being paralyzed from the waist down I was driving and working already 2 months after my discharge from the hospital. Returning quickly to my daily duties helped me a lot in that most difficult time of my life, however I was a sure that my passion for aviation is over and that, I never return to be a pilot and all my training and ratings were wasted.
2 years later I received a brochure from Mont Sinai hospital with the story about Freedoms Wings International. I live in NY and I was very happy that FWI is close in PA. I decided to give them a call and scheduled my first introductory flight with Chris Bigalke. Soon after I started my training and continued throughout next 2 seasons a on weekly or biweekly basis. Thanks to commitment, time and devotion of my instructor-Gill Frost I earned my glider license. Before I earned my glider rating and encouraged by my progress I traveled to Los Angeles where 2 wheelchair pilots established a power plane training for people with disability-International Wheelchair Aviation. I wanted to see if I can fly power planes with a hand controls. Soon after and back in NY I purchased Piper Archer- 4 seats, single engine airplane, installed a hand control and continued my training. 6 years after my injury I recovered all my pilot ratings and even added one more-glider pilot rating.
I must say that joining Freedoms Wings International was the mile stone for me. It really changed my life. I understood that the fact that I am disabled person is not obstacle to pursuit my dreams. It takes maybe more time and energy but with proper planning, devotion almost any goal can be achieved.
I continued my training. I learned very exciting ridge flying with my instructors-Bruce Brown and Bob Cook. I participated in almost every FWI event, giving introductory flights to dozens of disable and able persons. With Bruce Brown I still hold (2016) NJ state altitude record in multi place glider category and with Bob Cook NJ state distans record in the same category.
Encouraged by Bruce Brown I participate in FAA Wings program which brings flying and knowledge skills to a higher level. I recommend this program to every pilot. It really makes flying safer.
By pete golden, 2018-05-02
Wheelchairs, they feel like such a trap when we first find ourselves in one. But confine, is a state of mind.
When you have your 1st experience of freedom on freedoms wings, you rise up out of your chair, into the sky. An empty wheelchair left useless and unneeded discarded by the side of the runway.
Up you go, no longer disabled, at a disadvantage to others, no, now you are the master, the master of the sky. Others may wobble around on legs, like insects scurrying far below. But on wings of freedom only the eagle is your equal.
The ability to walk seems so meaningless as your wings carry you to the clouds.
Those who walk below are nothing but a speck, or perhaps a hiker along a ridge line you wave at, as you do a loop or 2 before soaring off into the distance. Man has walked upon the earth for thousands of years looking to the birds in the sky and dreaming to fly.
If walking upon the earth has become a struggle, reach for the sky. Fly baby fly!
It has been the dream of so many who walked upon the earth, and now the realization of a few who cannot.
By Josh Wilder, 2018-05-10
I learned of Freedom’s Wings International in 2008 from a news segment about disabled pilots soaring through the sky. I visited their website and was surprised to read that they held free flight events in my home state of Pennsylvania. Flying at one of their events seemed as far outside of my comfort zone as things got but the opportunity seemed too serendipitous to ignore.
I scheduled my introductory flight a few months in advance and surprisingly was not nervous about it. I was not even nervous when the day arrived and I was sitting in the cockpit. In retrospect I think that it just did not feel real. The thought of soaring through the sky in a sailplane did not feel real when a four-inch gap on the ground stops me in my tracks. Soaring was indeed real though. It was also a lot of fun.
Freedom’s Wings International is also an inclusive organization that offers opportunity to the population they serve. In my world this is just as important as the flights they provide. Securing employment is difficult for many individuals with disabilities. Freedom’s Wings International provides meaningful volunteer experience which looks fantastic on resumes. As a quadriplegic who works to make it easier for individuals with disabilities to secure employment, I simply cannot overstate how beneficial your time spent volunteering with Freedom’s Wings International will be. So if flying is not your thing then just volunteer. I have for 10 years and have only flown once.
By Bob Reuter, 2018-05-12
Bob Reuter, student pilot
Ok so you've taken your introductory ride and you are wondering, now what??? You really want to
learn to fly that glider yourself... so NOW WHAT??
well first thing is get in touch with one of the fine folks at Freedoms Wings, your pilot or one of the
other members, all of them weather last week or 50 years ago were in the same position you are.
Since I am just a bit in front of you I hope I can help you can get an idea of what is in store for you
before you can fly one of these beauties as it soars on the breath of the wind.
I did contact one of the good folks and they told me the drill and how to do it. Nothing worth while
comes easy and this takes some effort on your part.
First you have to join the Soaring Society of America, they have some great teaching helps and a
magazine for inspiring your dreams.
Then you need to join the Freedoms Wings “club”
you will be given some lessons to study, takes a lot of studying to learn all the rules of the road and
how to read the “street” signs in the sky. Nothing impossible just new and different than anything
you've probably done before. After some beginning study you will meet your instructor and take your
first “Real” lesson.
A lot of things done by the pilot in charge before, you will now have to start doing, things like doing
the preflight inspections and preflight checklists and checks. Of course in the beginning the instructor
or what is called the “CFIG” or Certified Flight Instructor-Glider will be looking over your shoulder.
No matter how good you get, until you have passed the pilots exam you are still a “student” and will be the responsibility of your CFIG, so their going to be “on your case” and you will wonder if you can
ever do anything right, but when you take the sticks in your hand and “catch your first thermal” or do a take off on your own, or get the landing spot on. The feeling makes it worth while.
You will make mistakes and wonder if you will ever be able to get this “glas” bird to do what you want. And most will spend a lifetime trying to do just that. Slowly and some days it will seem impossibly slow, you will feel “I can do this” and then can't or the CFIG tells you to do something that they think
you can but your not sure... you will sweat and grin and sweat some more but during this time you will
meet some really neat people and learn that this club is more than work, a picnic and then it is your turn
to go to the introductory flights as a volunteer to help others experience what you have.
Oh yeah, it does cost a bit, dues in Freedoms wings are probably lower than any other glider club
around and the Club CFIG's are volunteers (be reasonably nice to em) but that tow plane burns
expensive gas and the guy flying it has to pay for the plane and insurance so he has to charge you for
the flight. Figure about $65 per flight... so you fly when you have saved up enough, maybe get some
organizations or others to help, holiday and birthday presents can be gift certificates for tows but the
view out the canopy of that sailplane and the feeling of freedom when you are soaring cannot be
described, your introductory flight is only a tiny sample.
I wish I could tell you more but that's all the further I've gotten, so as I get further along I will relate
more stories about how I'm doing and hopefully I will see you on the grid waiting for your flight.
By Bob Reuter, 2018-05-12
NOTEBOOKS OF A STUDENT PILOT
(What Now, part II)
The thrill of the first flight is wearing off and the learning of the skills needed to fly
safely are practiced and practiced. Take offs and Landings are important, can't fly if you
can't take off and land.
Weather was not my friend this spring as several lessons were canceled at the last
minute, but pilots don't control the weather, the weather controls the pilot, especially a
glider pilot, and the restrictions on the inexperienced student pilot even more so.
I found out about this when club member Bill Thar invited me to fly second seat during
a contest at Wurtsboro NY. Crosswinds were a bit high and takeoffs and landing were
“tricky”, and this is what I have to learn, but when we were “flying the ridge” (there are
three major ways to gain altitude, thermal, wave, and ridge) which is getting the updraft
as the wind hits hills and mountains and goes up over them.
I was handed the controls on the ridge and it was a totally different experience from the
Thermal soaring I had been learning, kinda strange flying sideways a bit while going
straight ahead and climbing. But it was really exciting and got the blood moving, but
thank goodness one of the best ridge soaring pilots was in the back seat.
The Wind failed and we only completed about 2/3 of the “tasks” for the day so we didn't
get any points for the day but it was really interesting watching and experiencing a truly
skilled contest pilot work thermals and ridges where I probably wouldn't have been able
to stay in the air.
Later while on a training flight out of Van Sant airport (where we keep one aircraft
during the summer) I was getting ready to enter the pattern for landing when I found a
really great thermal, instructor said, “you found it, it's yours, work it” round and round
I went and climbed and climbed, finally had to stop when I got to the clouds and well,
gliders are not licensed to fly in the clouds. But it was the first true climb of over a
thousand feet and done entirely without the instructor saying anything.
After we reached the cloud and looked around a bit, this is the highest I've ever piloted,
the instructor took the time to teach me some of the skills that we needed to be a bit
higher to do safely, is really strange to get the plane to “Stall” and then have to recover.
But with a good instructor in the back seat it turned out to be less difficult than I had
imagined and it is key skill for safely flying, and in getting a license.
Of course during this time there was a lot of “hitting the books” to learn the rules of the
road and the various skills needed. One of the things that I got to help out was a
software program that had an identical aircraft as Freedoms wings and it can be easily
set up to work with two joysticks like the hand controls in our glider (Silentwings.no)
this software runs on windows, macs and linux computers and has Internet links where
you can compete with other pilots. (another program is Condor.com, which only runs on
Windows computers but is more popular in the US, both programs are similar and cost
about the same)
The advantage of software training programs is one can practice things that would be
expensive to do over and over or even dangerous to do in the real aircraft. Not to
mention one can do it anytime/anyplace.
Well the aircraft are being prepped for winter and I will be working the books and flying
the computer until next spring.
See you on the grid.
By Kris Lapinski, 2018-10-26To meet all requirements for my instructor check ride I had to receive my spin training. Thanks to my instructor, Bruce Brown we scheduled this training on Wednesday 10/24/18. It was windy day with gust up to 30 knots. Birds of Paradise management who provides tows was surprised that we still wanted fly in this kind of condition but me and Bruce flew in similar, challenging winds before in Blairstown. We released at 5000' above the clouds and prepared for spin practice. Bruce activated aerobatic area and contacted Allentown and Philadelphia approach for traffic separation. I was surprised that we have a lift above the clouds up to 4 knots. This was wave and it was my first time I soared wave. We climbed to 8900'. We probably would climbed even higher but decided to start practice spins and stalls. After loosing 1000' we have no problem to encounter wave lift again. We flew for 3 hr above the clouds at altitude 6-8k'. Cloud coverage was substantial. 80% of area below was covered, however there were holes big enough that we can descend below clouds having proper separation. Orientation was challenging with such cloud coverage and all fields from this altitude look similar. Most of wave we experienced above lake Nockamixon as our land mark, so we know where to head to return to Van Sant. Of course we need to find a hole in clouds first. I was warm but had concern about my feet at this altitude as I was not prepared for such long flight. It was very interested experience. Lift is much bigger in size than thermals. As long as we stayed stationary to our ground references we were ok. We can also circle in the lift. It was not strong but steady. There was also strong lift below clouds with heavy wind and turbulence. Above clouds there was almost no turbulence. Our approach was bumpy but we kept higher speed 65 knots and move aiming point 300-400' beyond beginning of runway 23. We had a whole field for our self as nobody else was flying. I was concern about roll out after landing with heavy crosswind from the right but we manage to stop on center line of 23.Thanks Bruce for the instruction. I experience spins in Grob ( I practiced spins in Poland in 2 different gliders and in USA in Piper for my CFI before my accident) and wave for the first time. What a fun.Check pictures. One is Pilot Halo if you zoom in with the shadow of our glider.Kris Lapinski
By Kris Lapinski, 2018-12-16
Freedom's Wing's International as a club from very beginning as I remember, was fortunate of having very good, experienced instructors. I joined club in 2003 and always was able to get instructions as well as knowledgeable advises focused on safety. Throughout of all these years I gained experience and decided that I will become instructor myself. Freedom’s Wing’s operates from two locations. Van Sant and Blairstown. Because most of our active instructors leave close to Philadelphia obvious choice to start and continue my training was Vas Sant airport because closer proximity to Philadelphia. Van Sant was the very first airport where I started my glider private pilot training.
To qualify for CFI-G one must become commercial glider pilot first, pass 2 knowledge tests, have a spin training and pass a practical test. Requirements for commercial are: minimum 100 flights as pilot in command and 25 hrs in gliders and to be minimum 18 years old. The later was very easy to meet. To become commercial pilot, candidate must have private pilot license, pass commercial knowledge test and practical test.
I started my training with Bruce Brown in spring 2017. Bruce from very beginning established the highest standards and we practiced lazy eights and chandelles which are not required in commercial Practical Test Standard but these advance maneuvers help to master “stick and rudder” coordination. I had to stop my flying in summer 2017 because of TFR in New Jersey. I concentrated on reading Glider Operating Handbook, Bob Wander: Commercial Make Easy, Tomas Knauff: Transition to Gliders. I also use computer preparation: Dauntless Internet prep material to prepare for knowledge test. I passed commercial knowledge test in September 2017. I resumed my training and continued throughout September and October with Gil Frost as instructor. Gil also required much higher standard that these minimums in PTS. We practiced Dutch Rolls and linked turns beside all of these from PTS.
In winter 2017/18 I continued my preparations. Again, Dountles computer prep for Fundamentals of Instructing and CFI-G. Advice of a friend and instructor pilot from Van Sant- Dominik Tomanek was very helpful. He explained me what I need and what kind of teaching aids I need to collect, to be well prepared. I created my “Tool Box” where I have all knowledge required plus my own strategy how to conduct each of ground and flight lesson of all the lessons from PTS. This kind of material and all reference books and aids will be very helpful in the future training. Bruce also suggested to improve my teaching skills by recording my lessons. I did teach many of my lessons, giving lecture and briefings to my laptop computer and then review these lessons and made improvements. In March 2018 I had no problem to pass my two knowledge tests having 100% score on Fundamentals of Instructing.
Again summer 2018 was similar to 2017 and because of TFR I did not fly much. Both airports are within TFR presidential radius.
I resumed my training in September 2018. I made many flights with Bruce where I was continuously talking, rehearsing, describing what I do and flying the plane. It is much more difficult when one needs to concentrate on talking, choosing the right words and doing at the same time.
In October Bruce gave me a spin training in challenging, windy condition where we encountered waves over Van Sant. This flight is described in the separate post.
Peter Lonstrup our chief instructor flew with me from time to time to check my progress and advised Bruce and Gil that I am ready and should apply for an exam via IACRA and schedule my check rides with Randy Rickert – my designated examiner.
My minimum plan was to pass my commercial exam in 2018 and CFF-G in 2019. These knowledge test results are expiring in 24 months. Following Bruce and Peter advice I scheduled my 2 check rides in 2018. I worried about the weather and approaching winter, that I will not have enough time.
My commercial exam was on October 31. It was nice, sunny day. I had 2 flights during which I demonstrated stalls and steep turns and spot landing on runway 7 at Van Sant. The third flight was interesting. Randy covered my altimeter and asked me to call 200’, 1000’ and 1500’ altitudes. I called 200’ correctly and concentrated to estimate my next call out when Randy surprise me with premature release at 800’. I landed on runway 23 and this landing completed my commercial check ride.
My CFI-G practical exam was scheduled on November 20 but snow made runways at Van Sant unusable. Bruce and I considered to position our second Grob from Wurtsboro to Blairstown to have a plan B in case we need to use paved runway which do not exist in Van Sant. Heavy wind prevented us from doing so. Next day was November 28 and again heavy wind caused to reschedule my exam, this time for Friday November 30.
The forecast for that day indicated light wind but rain in the afternoon. I came earlier to Van Sant and Randy was there already, so I started my ground part in Van Sant office accompanied by dog and 2 local cats. Randy asked me many questions for 3 hr. I was giving him different lessons. He played the role of a student. I brought 2 bags of reference books, tablets where I stored Advisories Circulars, models of glider and tow plane, board and marker, etc.
After ground part I had to give Randy a lesson of preflight. During that lesson light rain started. Overcast was around 3000’ and visibility was good. During my first flights I was giving Randy a lesson on steep turns and stalls. During the second flight Randy took control at 800’ and played very good role of beginner student where I had to take control when he went to low on boxing the wake. Also, I asked him to make another stall because I was not satisfied with his first one. I had to take controls couple more times, correct the attitude and give him back the controls. Randy liked that. We were too low after the last maneuver and I decided I will land on opposite runway. The last flight I release at 350’ and after 180 degree turn I landed on runway 7. During my first flight the tow pilot indicated that he was getting ice. I was worry that we may terminate our exam without conclusion. The conditions slightly improve and Tom, our tow pilot provided 2 more flight to us.
Randy announced that I passed. I became new FWI instructor. I want to thank Bruce, Gil and Peter for providing instruction. Special thanks to Bruce to be a mentor, his advices and his experience he shared with me made my preparation much easier. Thanks to Randy for being so nice and reschedule my exam 3 times. Also big thanks to Dannie and Bart- owners of Birds of Paradise for providing tow plane and their office where I had my ground part. I also want to thank Tom- my tow pilot for towing during my exam and towing in challenging windy condition when I had my spin lesson with Bruce. Finally, I want thanks Ela for serving as ground crew during my 2 exams and Dominik for his advices and encouragements.
So, in year 2018 I earned a new license. I will do my best to meet all high expectation which were establish by all instructor associated with FWI.
By kary wright, 2019-08-05
Imagine that you are free as a bird. You are a mile high, silently circling on a beautiful clear spring day, gaining altitude every turn. Slightly below you there is another sleek engineless aircraft taking advantage of the same thermal (a pocket of rising air). You gently move the joystick left and right, banking the aircraft to try to hit the centre of the rising air. You glance at the instruments being mindful of airspeed, rate of climb, and the other glider. The more altitude we gain the longer we stay up! Your instructor, a friend in the back seat, is getting great photos of the other glider that is piloted by another club member. You see and fly with birds, and climb to the base of puffy cotton-ball clouds. You notice tiny dinky-toy cars creeping along a highway, and little towns a mile below. You constantly remain aware of your location, so you can always make it home. Two hours later, you finally give in and head toward the airfield. You steer around the traffic pattern, your instructor making the radio calls and operating the spoilers to lose altitude. You watch your speed, adjusting it by raising and lowering the nose. You line up on the runway, gently pull back on the stick to round out as the field nears, and grease the landing! What a perfect day!
Soon you are back in your electric wheelchair. You are no longer a pilot. You are once again a quadriplegic, dependant on help from others. But you have tasted two hours of total freedom, soaring with birds and other pilots, silently sailing the sky from cloud to cloud a mile above those poor earth-bound creatures that know not that experience. Nothing can wipe the grin off your face or erase the memory.
That is soaring to me.
By JohnCT, 2021-12-06
It’s hard to describe what the last few years have been like.
How your life can change in an instant, the morning you wake up and you can’t get out of bed, the surgeon telling you he will do his best, there is a 50/50 chance you’ll walk again after your spinal surgery. Followed by 6 months of physical therapy and then a diagnosis of stage 3 renal cancer, more surgery. Another year and a half and now it’s thyroid cancer, so they take that out. 1 more year and it’s renal cancer again, more surgery, take more out.
I have always dreamed of being able to fly, I’m great full to the pilot that gave me my first experience to look out the window eye to eye with a Hawk in a thermal and sealed my love of soaring.
How amazing to find Freedoms Wings, people willing to donate their time to make others dreams come true. After multiple cancers and degenerative spinal disease, I’m becoming a glider pilot. And if all goes well, one day it will by my turn to help make someone’s dream come true.
I now have my first two training flights in the log book, I can’t thank Freedoms Wings enough and I’m honored to be a part of the group.