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Student helps people with disabilities fly planes

Max Clary

Max Clary '15 has started a nonprofit organization to help people who are paralyzed from the waist down to fly airplanes. (Photo by Dan O'Brien)

Max Clary ’15 has launched a marketing campaign for a local flight school that helps people with mobility challenges soar to their dreams.

Clary was an intern at Pilgrim Aviation in Plymouth, Massachusetts, last May when the recently opened company purchased a Piper Cherokee airplane with hand controls—making it one of the only flight schools in the Northeast offering people who are paralyzed from the waist down the chance to fly.



The Piper Cherokee airplane with hand controls that allows people with mobility impairment to fly. (Photo Courtesy of

“They purchased this plane along with several others to expand their fleet, but they weren’t quite sure what to do with it,” Clary said. “I said that’s tough to market. It would be more marketable if done through a charity.”

In June, Clary, a Communication Studies major, established The Phoenix Collaborative, a nonprofit organization that connects people with disabilities who have dreams of learning to fly to do so—free of charge. Each flight costs approximately $150, and the organization hopes to expand its ability to accept private donations.

“We know flying gives a … person [who uses a wheelchair] an incredible emotional lift and really improves their mental state,” said Gerald Rosen, Clary’s grandfather and co-owner of Pilgrim Aviation. “We’re enormously proud of him.”

Helping others is a personal cause for Clary, of Newton, Massachusetts, who was diagnosed with a kidney disease two years ago and spent months in and out of hospitals after his kidneys failed. After receiving a clean bill of health, last summer Clary—who played on Emerson’s Baseball Team last year—rode along with one of Pilgrim Aviation’s first students in a wheelchair, a man in his 20s who had been injured an accident.

“It was definitely a powerful moment,” Clary said. “Being able to talk to him, seeing how happy it made him. He definitely had a great experience. It was an unbelievable feeling being able to provide that.”



Two students took a flight lesson this summer at Pilgrim Aviation. (Photo Courtesy of Phoenix Collaborative)

Clary has been promoting The Phoenix Collaborative at airplane events and trade shows as well as on social media. He has also filmed videos of the flights with the help of Emerson students, which can be viewed on the organization’s Facebook page. He said the flight school has received a number of inquiries and has given lessons to three people with mobility impairments.

“There was a whole whirlwind of reasons why this wasn’t going to work,” he said. “But that was all the more motivation to ultimately do it…and show everyone it was doable.”

The flight students give him constant motivation.

“My client [said] something along the lines of, ‘I’m doing more things now than when I could walk,’” Clary said. “That reminds me why I’m doing this, and more importantly, who I’m doing it for.”

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