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October 3, 2006

2 deaf men welcome challenge of taking pilot's seat

From: Honolulu Star-Bulletin - Honolulu,HI,USA - Oct 3, 2006

Life without hearing has not kept them from following their dreams

By Helen Altonn

Ed Chevy and Marvin Cooper have different backgrounds and different ways of communicating. But the two Hawaii men share a passion and a challenge.

They both love to fly, and they both were born deaf.

Cooper, 30, got his pilot's license at age 18 and flies whenever he can. He can't use radio-controlled airports, but communicates through instruments.

"I haven't crashed yet," he said, smiling.

Chevy, 50, said he has only 20 hours of flight time, but "one day I will be flying."

While deafness can be devastating, the two men and their passion for flying show the "richness of life without hearing," said Ann Katherine "Kathy" Reimers, executive director of the Hawaii Services on Deafness.

In a recent interview through a sign-language interpreter, the two men said they would like to start a club for deaf pilots.

The two have different signing styles. Cooper uses fluent American Sign Language and doesn't mouth words. Chevy doesn't use his voice, even though he can, but instead mouths words and has animated facial expressions. "Language is on the face," Chevy said.

Cooper, who founded an e-commerce company, Billion Coupons Inc., said his parents, sister and brother all are deaf and graduated from the internationally renowned Gallaudet University for the deaf in Washington, D.C.

But Cooper bypassed Gallaudet University and went to Indiana State University to learn piloting. His parents told him he couldn't be a pilot and encouraged him to go into computer technology, he said. "But I'm rather persistent and stubborn."

"At 14, every Saturday I snuck out and would go to flight school, learning how to fly," Cooper said. "A very sweet man named Charley took me under his wing."

He went to a community college with an interpreter while still in high school to get the experience.

Cooper now flies at Dillingham Field and goes to the mainland to fly with different pilots associations. He also likes to build airplanes and is working on a boat at Keehi Lagoon that he bought from the military.

Chevy, an educator and entertainer, said he went to the California School for the Deaf in Berkeley, then to Gallaudet. He returned to California, and moved to Kauai in 1985.

"I was involved in a theater group and we traveled extensively," he said. "Something about Hawaii attracted me. It wasn't the tradewinds or sun. It was something about the deaf community."

He worked with eight young people on Kauai, helping them live with deafness. "Many had lots of issues," he said. He took some to an international festival for deaf people at Gallaudet in 1989 to show them they had options "for other than minimal jobs."

Chevy said he was a certified auto technician with a reputation for "troubleshooting in electronics" when he moved to Hawaii. "It was a challenge," he acknowledged, because employers were willing to hire him but asked how he could hear a car engine.

He doesn't need to listen to an engine because he can tell how it is working by looking at patterns on the oscilloscope, he said. But because he is deaf, he said, he worked harder to prove his value.

Chevy worked from 1991 to 1998 at Hickam Air Force Base, retiring when a car hit him from behind when he was riding his motorcycle.

Chevy said he became interested in aviation when his father rebuilt a World War I fighter plane, like the Red Baron. The plane had been used in the 1930 Howard Hughes movie "Hell's Angels" and crashed, he said. His father spent 12 years restoring it, Chevy said. "It became my passion. That plane sits in the Virginia Air Museum."

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