The history of aviation is filled with stories of overcoming obstacles and challenges. It’s one of the things that makes the industry so fascinating. From Charles Lindbergh completing the first solo transatlantic flight to Wiley Hardeman Post being the first person to circumnavigate the globe, the accomplishments in flying have all stemmed from a person taking what others say couldn’t be done and achieving the seemingly impossible.
One such story is that of Rick Amber. In 1971, as a naval aviator during the Vietnam War his jet crashed during a landing attempt on a naval aircraft carrier, which left him paralyzed. After competing in and winning the U.S. Open National Wheelchair Tennis Championship in the early 90’s, Rick wanted to use his accomplishments to encourage children to overcome their own disabilities. That’s when he decided to get back to his true passion – flying. In 1993, he founded an organization called Challenge Air for Kids & Friends after overcoming his disability as a quadriplegic through several activities and committed to
making a difference in the lives of children with special needs.
The idea of Challenge Air “took off” after Amber invited a group of physically challenged children on a flight over the Dallas, Texas skyline. He realized that overcoming his disability helped the kids change their perception about their own disabilities. By eliminating the belief that they are limited, children can grow to their full potential. They are given the opportunity to find the courage within themselves and build in areas where they lack self-esteem. Challenge Air provides an unforgettable growing experience that opens the door to possibilities while allowing the children to see that they can accomplish more than they ever thought possible. The Challenge Air motto is “if you can fly a plane, you can do anything!”
Challenge Air recently celebrated 25 years of flying kids with special needs. By hosting events called Fly Days, Challenge Air has helped change the perception of over 38,000 children with special needs in over 35 states. Each year, Challenge Air will host 12-15 Fly Day events where the child with special needs and their families are invited to go up in a GA aircraft with an instructor where they can experience the thrill of controlling an airplane. With a network of over 3,500 volunteers nationwide, their reach is ever-expanding. April Culver, Challenge Air CEO, says, “We ask general aviation pilots to donate their aircraft, time and fuel to help fly kids with special needs between the ages of 7 and 21, and the kids actually get to co-pilot the plane!”
With the dedication of over 250 GA pilots and a committed volunteer board of 12 individuals, these life-changing experiences are offered at no cost to the families. “It’s been a wonderful thing to be a part of,” says Jill Cole, American Flyers President and Challenge Air board member. “Over the past few years, American Flyers has had the pleasure of supporting events in the Fort Lauderdale and Dallas areas through sponsorship and providing pilots and planes. We are honored to be a part of what this incredible organization is doing in the lives of these young men and women.” Local FBO’s also donate their hangars and each host community pulls together to offer a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“The only person that is limited is one with a limited mind. Once that barrier is broken, one’s true potential can be reached.” Amber passed away in 1997 after battling cancer, but his legacy and impact live on through Challenge Air.
For more information contact April Culver at 214-3351-3353 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit www.challengeair.org.