Another First for Jetlev Southwest – 3 Deaf Pilots Fly on July 10th, 2012

On July 10th, 2012, Jetlev Southwest made history once again when they successfully flew three deaf customers at their Newport Beach location. The three customers, Eric Becerra, Leo Hernandez, and Stacey Valle, saw the recent Groupon deal offering discounted Introductory Flight Experiences, so Eric took the lead to organize the outing.

When they arrived at the Newport Beach office, they were greeted by Kate Cullen and Dean O’Malley, who weren’t aware of the fact that they were deaf. Once the situation was understood, a quick plan was put into place and it was explained that learning to fly might be more of a challenge without the ability to hear the commands from the instructor, but if they were willing to take a creative approach to the process, they should still be able to get up in the air.

After signing and filling out the appropriate paperwork, an old version of the training video was pulled up, since it was scripted with written subtitles rather than audio narration. Dean then conducted the equipment overview, speaking slowly and clearly to allow the three new pilots to read his lips to learn the concepts of small movements, level control arms, body leans for turns, etc. Each person was strapped into the training pack to give them a feel for the controls and better understand what to expect in the water and in the air.

Dean escorted the group down to the training location, where he joined Jetlev Southwest team members Josh Hanson, James Gibeson and Johnnie Cartwright to explain the situation and assist with the flight.

Eric was the brave individual who agreed to be the guinea pig for the group and strap into the pack first. He was the organizer, but also the one person in the group with partial hearing, so the walkie-talkie helmet was strapped onto him and the volume was turned up, in hopes that he’d be able to pick up some of the spoken commands. In order to allow for more visual instruction, Josh hopped on the back of the jet ski with James, so Eric could see the hand signals he would be giving to correspond to the verbal commands that Dean would be providing from the pontoon.

At this point Eric slowly descended down the ladder and into the chilly morning waters of Newport Harbor, thankfully protected by a nice full wetsuit. Once he was clear of the boat, Dean began his verbal instruction, which Josh translated into visual hand signals. Eric quickly got the unit started, but fell into the common first-time pilot frustration of falling off-center and getting into a sharp turn, so there were a number of restarts in the beginning.

In order to facilitate the learning, James hopped in the water and assisted with a great learning technique called shadow flying, where the assistant faces the pilot and holds the control arms as the instructor slowly throttles up, ensuring that the control arms stay level, which is the most critical part of getting into the forward motion low taxi position. Once he got moving, James ducked out of the way and Eric was off!

From there, it was just a matter of refining the delicate controls, but soon enough, Eric was up, up, and airborne, grinning from ear to ear, doing laps around the harbor.

After his flight, Leo was the next one to strap into the pack. While he was being strapped in, Eric provided some suggestions to him via sign language, mainly emphasizing the small movements. Since Leo has zero hearing, the decision was made to have James in the water to shadow fly from the start and that proved to be the trick. After he watched Eric during his flight and having James assist with getting started, he got up in the air in about five minutes, so he was able to spend the majority of his session time flying around following the jet ski watching for signals from Josh on the small refinements to make to keep him stable and get him higher in the air. When he returned to the pontoon boat after his flight, he was smiling and giving Eric grief for not going quite as high as he did, but also admitting that he got a little nervous at the higher altitudes.

Last but not least, it was time for little Stacey to give it a try. She was dragged along by her boyfriend Eric and it was clear that she was a little unsure about the whole thing. She was a trooper though and she strapped in. Stacey is probably only about 5’1″ and 100lbs, so Dean knew it would be a challenge to get her into the air, since smaller people have a slightly more difficult time controlling the Jetlev on their first flights. James did a great job staying with her though as he guided her off into the low taxi position and she disproved any doubt with her amazingly smooth controls and stable flying, thus proving that anyone and everyone can fly the Jetlev.

Big thanks to all three Jetlev pilots, Eric, Leo and Stacey, for coming out to give the Jetlev a try. Hopefully they’ll be back soon for a follow-up flight, so they can take over their own throttle control.

If you’re ready to conquer your fears and get airborne, visit our online store to book your flight today!

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