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December 25, 2002

Deafness aside, he reached the sky

From: Albany Times Union, NY - 25 Dec 2002

Scotia-- Disability didn't stop man from learning to fly

By DANIELLE T. FURFARO, Staff writer

Like many other amateur pilots, Stephen Hopson flew himself home for the holidays. He left his home in Detroit Tuesday morning and landed at the Schenectady Airport by late afternoon, bearing gifts for his family. But Hopson, 42, is no ordinary pilot. He is deaf.

The Shaker High School graduate had dreamed of being a pilot since he was a little boy, but he thought his deafness would prevent him from getting a license. That changed a few years ago when he learned about the International Deaf Pilots Association.

Because Hopson is deaf, he cannot use normal communications methods with control towers and must rely solely on visual flight rules and notify airports of his plans in advance. That means that he cannot fly in bad weather.

"Other pilots can cut through the clouds, but I have to find a hole," said Hopson, who lip-reads. "If weather gets bad, the best course of action would be to make a 180-degree turn and go back where I came from."

Of the approximately 12,000 airports in the United States, about 700 have control towers, including the Schenectady airport. So Hopson had to make arrangements ahead of time to land at the airport and then had to look for control tower lights, which let him know if it was OK to land.

Hopson has clocked about 275 hours in the air since he got his license in July 2001.

His parents, Warren and Annette Hopson, said their son always has been the kind of person to take control of his own life. After he graduated from college, he went to New York City to seek work as a stockbroker and eventually landed the job he wanted.

But in 1999, he decided he had enough of the rat race and moved to Detroit. He now works as an inspirational speaker and writer.

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