Paraplegic Pilot Gets Cirrus Jet Type Rating


A paraplegic Pennsylvania pilot has become the first to earn a type rating in a Cirrus SF50 Vision Jet. Clayton Smeltz lost the use of his legs when he was just 16 months old in a vehicle accident and earned his private certificate in a Cherokee 10 years ago. On Jan. 4, he got typed in the jet using hand controls to manipulate the pedals and other controls. 

“I feel like I just cheated being disabled! As a boy I dreamed of being a jet pilot but of course that would never happen. Now, after a year in the making, we’ve developed adaptive controls that allow the jet to be flown by hand!!,” he tweeted after completing the ride.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. I remember the first time I saw a guy climbing out of his plane to get into his wheel chair at Peachtree DeKalb airport KPDK in Atlanta, GA several decades ago. I had no idea that a plane could be converted to being flown with only hand controls. I believe there is a guy that flys a Pitts by hand controls only.

    • Hey, many of the people I’ve flown with use just their hands. Luckily they don’t fly taildraggers.

    • According to an article I read, he and his brother designed the controls themselves, and it was installed under a 337.

  2. Excellent.

    I know he said he was disabled but I’d argue he is not. He is completely able. Handicapped, yes, but he overcame that.

    Also I’d wager that jet cost in the millions, so apparently he is also successful with earning. God bless him!

  3. I know a man who is similarly challenged and who flies a modified Cardinal RG with hand controls. He says the hardest part is not the flying, but getting into the plane and stowing his chair in the back seat. I suspect entry and exit of the Cirrus jet may be the more challenging part. Congratulations Mr. Smelts, I salute you and your determination.