A Veteran’s Day Salute: Inclusive UAS – One Man’s Mission to Bring Drone Flight to People with Disabilities

Rob Corbett receives certification as an AFOSI agent

A Veterans 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, hes dedicated his life to bringing inclusion into the drone community by advocating for and training others with disabilities, including veterans and their families.

 Corbetts 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 hed forever have to use, Corbett got busy creating his own homemade 3D printed attachments for drone controllers.

inclusive uas

Corbett tests the Air2S for ergonomics and design.

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 Wounded Eagle UAS (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 My Mappix 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 organizations 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 Drone Forward Inc.(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 FAAs integration of accessibility protocols for the Part 107 exam.

Corbett recently linked DFI with The Wounded Warrior Project 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 DFIs 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.

“I wanted to research the Air 2S for adaptive flight so I went to my local Best Buy. The interaction was special because rarely do I see fellow wheelchair users around my community. I shared my initiative with (Mike, Salesperson) and he expressed wanting to learn how to fly FPV. I plan on getting him going as soon as possible.”

Corbett noted, We dont 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, its Rob Corbett.

Read more about Wounded Eagle UAS and drones for adaptive therapy.

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. here. To volunteer as an MOPH Bootcamp trainer, contact Rob Corbett at Robert.corbett@weuas.org.

Dawn M.K. Zoldi (Colonel, USAF, Retired) is a licensed attorney with 28 years of combined active duty military and federal civil service to the Department of the Air Force. She is an intIernationally recognized expert on unmanned aircraft system law and policy, a columnist for several magazines,recipient of the Woman to Watch in UAS (Leadership) Award 2019, President and CEO of UAS Colorado and the CEO of P3 Tech Consulting LLC. For more information, visit her website at: https://www.p3techconsulting.com.