A Veteran’s Day Salute – Flight Takes Many Forms
By: Dawn Zoldi
(All images courtesy Rob Corbett, used with permission.)
As soon as he impacted the ground, he knew something was seriously wrong. In December 2016, a freak fall while snowboarding left U.S. Air Force veteran Rob Corbett, a decorated non-commissioned officer and Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) agent with more than a decade of active duty service to the nation, paralyzed from the neck down.
Ever since, he’s dedicated his life to bringing inclusion into the drone community by advocating for and training others with disabilities, including veterans and their families.
Corbett’s foray into drones preceded his accident. Inspired by a neighboring remotely piloted aircraft pilot at Cannon Air Force Base, he began flying recreationally in 2015.
“I always had a fascination with aviation and flight,” he explained. “I wanted to fly in a motorized aircraft. After my injury, I figured I could have my little slice of aviation by adapting drones. I also found that I could teach others.”
And so he did. Only three years after doctors disconnected him from the breathing tube and ventilator that they originally said he’d forever have to use, Corbett got busy creating his own homemade 3D printed attachments for drone controllers.
Developing the Tools for Inclusive UAS
Without the use of his fingers, he had to design mechanisms to extend the various buttons so he could bump them to control the aircraft. After much trial and error with different platforms, with the help of occupational and physical therapists, he overcame these challenges. This inspired him to help others of all abilities and backgrounds to fly.
Initially Corbett integrated drones into his technology course for people with disabilities at a local vocational center near his home. Despite a litany of success stories, including adapting the controller for a stroke victim who no longer had the use of his left side so he could fly, the pandemic forced a downshift in programs and a cut to course funding.
Corbett decided to pursue his vision for inclusive UAS flight independently. “I saw such value in what drones had brought to me and my students, how drones can serve someone with disabilities in such a great way,” he explained. “I wanted to bring inclusion into the UAS space by bridging the human/tech interface gap.”
And so he became an Adaptive UAS Advisor to the nonprofit (WEUAS), a consortium of veterans and supportive civilians exclusively dedicated to helping wounded and disabled service members, veterans and their families find pathways into the commercial drone industry through training, networking and mentorship.
The WEUAS training program includes an eLearning certification course in partnership with supplemented by an 8-week, 1-hour lecture series that enables WEUAS our members to get Part 107 certified.
In collaboration with WEUAS, Corbett helped forge a strategic alliance with The Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH) to launch the organization’s first Drone Bootcamp. This program provides MOPH members and their families with the opportunity to participate in both “hands on” stick and tablet drone operations and online Part 107 prep tutorials. The first camp will occur in December in West Virginia.
In addition to his leading role in WEUAS, Corbett is also the Business Development Director at .(DFI), a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing drone-centric STEAM-based education for youth.
DFI has become an advocate for people with disabilities. One of its major successes was an advocacy campaign that led to the FAA’s integration of accessibility protocols for the Part 107 exam.
Corbett recently linked DFI with to host a joint inaugural event on November 15th in Roseland, Virginia. This multifaceted event will include drone building, drone games, and career exhibitions to help veterans see how drones are guiding society towards a safer, more sustainable future. All veterans will leave the event with their own drone.
He also inspired the creation of DFI’s Inclusive UAV/UAS Education Team and its related Pathways Program. This program aims to provide a support system to post-secondary drone programs by empowering students with all forms of disabilities to work with faculty to broaden program accessibility.
Corbett noted, “We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Many universities, postsecondary and vocational schools have great drone programs. If we just make some small changes, we can include all people in these experiences. DFI has already partnered with Howard Community College in Maryland for its pilot Pathways Program.
For Corbett and his many partners, the future remains bright. In addition to continuing and expanding all of these existing initiatives, he plans to launch a Flight Takes Many Forms video series to “capture diverse groups of people using drones in unique ways and unique people using drones.”
Most of all, though, Corbett hopes to continue inspiring others – especially wounded veterans and other-abled individuals – to never give up on their dreams. “Where there is a will there’s a way,” he advised. “Be patient. You are going to have setbacks, things that frustrate you and discourage you from your goals. But if you stay persistent and keep going, you will achieve them.”
And if anyone embodies these words, it’s Rob Corbett.
Purple heart recipients and their families can register for the December 4th and 5th, Racine MOPH Bootcamp to occur at the Locks and Dam Park. New Haven, West Virginia. . To volunteer as an MOPH Bootcamp trainer, contact Rob Corbett at .
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.
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