The Sky’s The Limit For Blind Pilot

by Kevin Burton

   Last month a blind woman flew a small airplane across the country. That’s a story you want to read about, right? 

   OK, here it is, short version:

  Kaiya Armstrong, a 22-year-old Arizona woman who can see only a few inches in front of her face, flew a two-seater Cessna airplane from Arizona to College Park, Maryland in a five-day series of hops. 

   She had a sighted co-pilot with her on her trip who communicated with her throughout the flights, giving her real-time vital information.

   This story was widely reported. I got most of my information from a Washington post story written by Clarence Williams. 

   “The journey was sponsored by the Foundation for Blind Children, a 70-year-old Arizona organization that teaches about 2,000 students of all ages how to navigate life without full sight,” said CEO Marc Ashton.

   “This flight was designed to inspire, to show that if one blind woman could fly across the country, then others who are blind or have restricted sight can strive to be whatever they choose in life,” Ashton said.

   “This was just an amazing event that I never thought would be possible,” said Marilin Huinac, a 16-year-old student. “She’s doing this for us. We can do anything. Like she said, ‘There are no limits.’”

   “This is just such a huge moment, not just for me and my family, but the entire visually impaired community,” Armstrong said after landing in Maryland.

   But is it?

   I’m not saying it isn’t a tremendous feat. Amazing, exciting, yes. I am impressed by it.  I wouldn’t have the guts to do it.  Would not attempt it. Never.

   But how much does this mean to a blind man who will show up to a job interview this afternoon, with his guide dog or cane, and immediately be eliminated from consideration by a sighted hiring manager.

   How much does it mean to a blind college student forced to fight constantly just to get her textbooks in a format that is accessible to her?

   I would be very interested to hear what readers think about this, but especially blind readers.   Am I being too hard-hearted about this?

   The Post ran this story in a section it called “Inspired Life.”

   Is this story the ultimate example of what the blind call “inspiration porn,” or is it a celebration of the achievements of a courageous young woman?

   Could it be both?

   The trip “commemorated World Sight Day, designed to be an international day of awareness promoted each October,” according to the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness.

   “The organization sponsors ‘Challenge Events’ for students, including a hike up Mount Kilimanjaro, swims to Alcatraz Island and braving rapids on the Colorado River. The group nervously tracked Armstrong’s progress through a GPS app as she left Phoenix, was rerouted from Colorado to Las Vegas because of bad weather and continued landing and taking off eastward bound,” Williams wrote

   “It’s really to give our kids that moment of glory to have the rest of their lives to sow confidence,” Ashton said.

   “Armstrong’s sight began to falter as a 14-year-old when she left her Goodyear, Ariz., house for a miles-long bike ride. Within minutes, the world grew fuzzy, and she quickly returned home to tell her mother, Kamla Armstrong, who thought she simply had an allergic reaction to something,” Williams wrote. “But soon her mother looked into her eyes and realized something was deeply wrong.”

   “Her pupil had ballooned. It looked like upside-down Mickey Mouse ears,” Kamla Armstrong said.

   “She endured three surgeries that promised improvement but left her sight only more blurry, her parents said. It took years before doctors said an autoimmune disease led to the condition,” Williams wrote.

   Over several years, Armstrong’s eyesight deteriorated, and she navigated her high school years without medical or academic support, falling off sidewalk curbs and bumping into things, her parents recalled. By senior year, the family purchased a guide cane and turned to YouTube videos to learn how to use it, her father, Mark Armstrong, said.

   In March, the Foundation for Blind Children offered her the chance to learn to fly. She was chosen from a competitive group of students and jumped at the opportunity, even though she had never taken a flight and had traveled only to neighboring California and Nevada.

    “The foundation enrolled her in months-long intensive flight instruction. She trained with Leopard Aviation, which paired her with instructor Tyler Sinclair, who helped her learn all the intricacies of the cockpit and co-piloted her epic journey,” Williams wrote.

   I wish a happy landing here, to those blind people looking to take off and soar in their chosen career. 

Join the Conversation


  1. I’m not at all sure what I think. Quite an experience for her and those working with her. There will certainly be those who find it inspiring. However, what impact does it have on the average blind person who is trying to negotiate a job or going to class? In today’s world we still have blind people who use guide dogs constantly being denied a ride with Uber. Does this story change that at all?

    Tracy Duffy



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