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University of Oklahoma student soars with one hand

BY JAMES S. TYREE Published: May 17, 2009
NORMAN — Eric Gaffney was born without a right hand, so he wasn’t sure he could become a commercial pilot when he arrived at the University of Oklahoma.

Afraid he wouldn’t get the medical clearance to fly professionally, Gaffney initially bypassed OU’s aviation school and majored in biochemistry. But after one year, he switched to aviation, and his college experience has been taking off ever since.

It reached a new height on April 30 when Gaffney received the Department of Aviation’s Stick and Rudder Award. The annual honor is given to the student who demonstrates "the most readiness for flight” through preflight planning and excellence in the air.

"I really did not see it coming,” said Gaffney, who just completed his junior year. "I was shocked. I was surprised, happy. It’s a big award that’s good to put on your resume.”

Brian Parrish and Jermaine Phillips, instructors who have worked with Gaffney, said he works tirelessly. Phillips said that Gaffney "has to do more than the average pilot, but he picks it up, learns it and then comes back for more.”

Parrish agreed, saying Gaffney mastered in four months what it takes many students a year to understand.

"Eric is a very determined student and is self-motivated,” Parrish said. "Some students you really have to encourage and push along, but Eric comes prepared and ready to go.