Flying Without Hands
Bill E. Burk *
Editor's Note: We are indebted to the AOPA Pilot, for permission to reprint this interesting story about Jerry Leavy. It originally appeared in the July 1959 issue of the "Pilot", the organ of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. Mr. Burk, the author, is Aviation Editor of the Memphis, Tennessee Press-Scimitar Newspaper. He is a private pilot and met Jerry Leavy when the latter flew into the Memphis Airport in his own plane.
There was nothing different about the way this Cessna 182 circled Memphis Municipal Airport.
It entered the traffic pattern at 1,000 feet. It made a smooth glide on final approach. Just before touching down, the pilot lifted the nose skyward and the plane greased in for a smooth landing. The pilot taxied on to the Dixie Air Associates hangar at the southwest corner of the field and was guided to the tie-down area by an attendant.
Once stopped, the pilot-a trim young businessman in a brown spoil coat and brown slacks, white shirt and bow tie-nonchalantly gave orders for servicing the plane. He reached into the cabin of the plane and picked up a briefcase, then walked away to catch the airport limousine into town- fresh and ready for a day of business.
He looked no different than any of the hundreds of other businessmen who fly their own planes into Memphis, except for one thing-he had no hands.
The pilot was Jerry D. Leavy, 32, (AOPA 13094-8) of Santa Clara, Calif., vice president and traveling representative of A.J. Hosmer Corporation, manufacturers of artificial arms, hooks, wrist units and elbows. Leavy is a wonderful walking advertisement for their business because he has artificial arms. He uses steel hooks for hands. Persons who have seen him fly attest to the fact that he isn't handicapped when it comes to controlling an airplane.
600 Hours in the Air
A veteran of more than 600 hours in the air, Leavy has flown coast-to-coast four times. His only restriction was that he once could not fly at night. "But that was removed long ago," he says. In 1958, he flew about 90,000 passenger miles, using airline standards.
Leavy began his flight training under Russell Hill at San Jose, Calif., Municipal Airport about three years ago in an Aeronca Champ.
"Hill insisted I learn on a stick," he said. "I argued the point, but he insisted that I learn spins and spin recovery, even though they were no longer a part of the private license test." He was thankful some months later when he went for the check ride. The FAA inspector asked him to put the plane in a spin and recover. Leavy passed hands down.
He soon switched to the Cessna line and the tricycle landing gear "because it was easier to handle." Leavy's own Cessna 182 has only one special attachment, a ring on the throttle to replace the knob. All other equipment is normal and he (lies the plane as any unhandicapped person would. He will soon be ready to try for his instrument ticket and. should he pass, plans to try his hand ( hooks, if you prefer ) at multi-engine flying.
Leavy was born in Columbus, Neb. He fell out of a cherry tree when he was 13 and smashed both arms. Gangrene set in. The left arm had to be amputated below the elbow; the right arm above. He was given artificial arms when he was 14, but couldn't use them well.
Jerry was with the Government nine years doing research in artificial limbs for handicapped people. He continued this work at the University of California at Los Angeles and finally entered the same field in private enterprise.
Leavy finds that flying his own plane is more satisfactory than traveling on commercial airlines. In calling on customers, he doesn't like to be hurried. He doesn't like to have to be at the airport at a certain time to catch a flight. With bis own plane, he can stay with a customer as long as he desires and feel relaxed.
He is married and has three children, aged from three to seven. He doesn't think of himself as handicapped-well, not much.
Asked why he took up flying, Leavy said: "I have to call on about 400 wholesale accounts from California to New York. I had been driving the distance. It was too long; too tiring. I found myself fatigued as I went into my sales pitch. Flying seemed the answer."
He was asked if he weren't afraid his hooks would handicap him in a tight situation.
"A plane is only as safe as the man who flies it," Leavy answered. "I fly by the rules, avoid bad weather, and try to make sure that I am safe at all times. I have never been in a spot where my hooks have handicapped me."