October 27, 2002
Hearing-impaired pilot answers call of wild blue
From: Orlando Sentinel, FL
Oct. 27, 2002
By Amanda Koonce
LEESBURG -- Jim Vary of The Villages isn't one to let many things
Like many people who dream of being a pilot, Vary wasn't satisfied
until he was in the air.
But what makes him a different kind of pilot is that Vary has had a
life-long profound hearing impairment.
No matter. He did it anyway.
Born and raised in East Grand Rapids, Mich., doctors identified
Vary's hearing problem when he was 1 month old, speculating but never
officially concluding that his mother had contracted German measles
during the first trimester of her pregnancy.
"I feel very fortunate that I had early identification and early
intervention," said Vary, who now ably comprehends speech by
assembling some vowel sounds he hears through hearing aids and
consonant sounds he reads from people's lips.
At only 9 months old, he began receiving the special linguistic
training that taught him to make use of the remaining 2 percent of
his hearing. He attended an oral-deaf school in Grand Rapids, where
he learned to feel and control the vibrations of his voice so his
speech is neither unconsciously too loud or too quiet.
Vary, 59, moved to The Villages with wife, Carolyn, just six months
ago after his company merged with another in August 2001 and offered
an attractive retirement package, accepted by nearly everyone in the
data-processing department where he worked.
Retirement has not marked the end of Vary's working days, as he's
opening a business solutions company with brother-in-law Ken
Carpenter of Ormond Beach.
Vary began his flight training in Michigan, where he completed the
Federal Aviation Administration's ground school and began pursuing
the longtime interest.
"I've been exposed to aviation since I was around 8 or 9 years old,
and I can remember wanting to do this when I was young," he said.
However, between work and other activities, it was only possible to
schedule flight lessons about once every other weekend, and he found
himself repeating material.
After retirement, he flew three or four times a week and gained
enough experience to earn his private-pilot license by June of this
He said with his hearing impairment, he cannot understand radio
communication, but there's no radio requirement to earn a private-
pilot rating. He pointed out that only around 20 percent of airports
in the country have control towers anyway.
There are some limitations to where Vary and other deaf pilots can
fly because certain zones, such as the airspace surrounding Orlando
International Airport, require radio communication, but there are
plenty of other places where Vary can land a plane, and he's not
concerned by the limits.
He now has accumulated around 75 hours of flying time and has resumed
training with Penny Wilson of Triangle Aviation Service at the
Leesburg Municipal Airport. He's receiving instruction in instrument
and commercial flying, though his hearing impairment will prevent him
from earning either rating.
"I can't use the radio, which is required for an instrument rating,
but I want to have the proficiency," Vary said.
He's already looking forward to the day he can make a long, cross-
country trip, perhaps back to Michigan to visit three of the couple's
four children, who still live there. He estimates that it'll be
another two or three years before he feels confident enough in his
proficiency to purchase and begin flying a plane of his own, but it's
just a matter of time.
To others with substantial hearing loss who want to earn a private-
pilot license, Vary has two bits of advice. First, he said they
should be aware that there's an International Deaf Pilots Association
with membership in the United States, Australia and France. He
suggests that any deaf person interested in flying contact him or one
of his fellow members to act as a mentor.
In July, Vary attended the annual weeklong IDPA fly-in at the group's
headquarters in Frederick, Md., where 48 deaf pilots from the United
States and a contingency of 33 from France all gathered for the usual
banquets and receptions, but also for flying excursions to nearby
airports and other attractions.
In addition, Vary recommends that before a hearing-impaired person
goes out for flying lessons, he or she should enroll in the FAA
ground school and subscribe to one or more aviation publications to
learn the vocabulary involved with flying.
"It's almost like learning a new language," he said. Vary read flying
magazines for four years before he actually began taking lessons.
Wilson, a longtime pilot and flight instructor who just reached
17,520 hours of flying, said Vary is her first student with any type
of serious impairment, and she's been impressed with his success.
"It makes you realize, if he can do it, a lot of people who think
they can't really can," she said.
© Orlando Sentinel