Southern California Soaring Academy helps disabled veterans take flight

LLANO, Calif. (KABC) -- On a crisp, clear day, a bus pulled up into a dirt parking lot, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. One by one, a group of disabled veterans got off the bus at Crystal Airport in llano.

The vets get off and were excited about what laid ahead - a few minutes of airborne adventure where they'd be free, if only for a little while, from their disabilities.

"I'm looking forward to it, definitely" one of the veterans said.

They'd soon be airborne, but with a twist. That's because they'd be going up in gliders, with no engines.

The vets were a little nervous, but some have been up in the air before. Michael Prim is a U.S. Navy Veteran.

"There's a lot going through my mind right now, but the main thing is - don't die," he said.

"It is life changing," said Julie Bennett, who helps run the Southern California Soaring Academy.

The academy is a nonprofit glider flight school that offers a unique experience to wounded or disabled service members.

Bennett said for the group of veterans, it was exciting and exhilarating, all at the same time.

"I'm not a doctor," she said. "But what happens is there's some kind of new neural pathway being created."

Here's how it worked: The glider is towed up by a crop-duster to a certain altitude, and then released. Depending on weather conditions, the glider then has the potential of soaring even higher.

Army veteran Albert Coleman is paralyzed from the waist down. He was helped into the glider and appeared ready to go. He said he's not worried at all - he's done it before.

"I feel just a little closer to heaven up there," Coleman said.

Within moments - he's airborne.

"This is amazing," Coleman said from the cockpit.

Once they're about a mile up, the crop-duster released the cable. And just as promised, the pilot was able to find the right air currents to take this gilder even higher.

"Did you hear that, fellas? We're actually climbing," Coleman said.

A few minutes later, they were back on the ground. The experience was uplifting, to say the least.

"You no longer feel paralyzed," he said. "It's the sense of just feeling, being free. This was beautiful."

To sign up for the glider experience interested veterans should contact their local VA office and ask how they can participate in this recreational therapy experience.
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