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A Dream Taking Flight

March 9, 2014, 10:15 PM by Angela Kennecke

A Dream Taking Flight
SIOUX FALLS, SD -

It takes a lot of practice, time and money to get your pilot's license.  It can be a challenge for anyone, but it's especially challenging for someone who is deaf.

We first introduced you to Nick Ullom back in 1995, as his parents adapted to having a deaf child.  Today Nick's dreams are taking him high above the clouds.

That's 21-year-old Ullom in the pilot's seat of a small plane at the Tea airport. His passion for flying started in 6th grade when he got a flight simulator program.  He's logged 5,000 hours on it.

"Just like being inside a real airplane; the only difference between the simulator and real airplane like this is just the feel of it--you can feel inside of it; you can feel all the forces," Ullom said.

Feeling is a big thing when it comes to flying, but so is hearing.  Ullom was born deaf. 

"Both my ears have profound loss and I have had hearing aids since I was about 1 and 1/2 years old," Ullom said.

That's about the time KELOLAND News viewers first met him.  This cherubic toddler was just learning to speak thanks to his hearing aids. 

19 years later, Ullom speaks very well and has gotten even better since getting a cochlear implant in his left ear last May.

"One of the main reasons why I got the cochlear implants is that it can help me hear better; I'll be able to detect my surroundings better and I know some other deaf pilots that have cochlear implants and it's my number one dream to become a pilot. So I went and decided to go in and do it," Ullom said.

He took his first flight a year ago, before getting the implant.  Now that he has one, it's changing his world, but not overnight. 

"I have to relearn all the sounds because they're totally different," Ullom said.

"It takes a while for the brain to process, to learn how to hear and how to process all the information I understand. I'm kind of learning this too, along with Nick.   He has to tell me what he can hear and we do some experiments in the cockpit," Flight Instructor Mark Isackson said.

Deaf pilots are nothing new. The first person to fly across the United States in 1911 had severe hearing loss.  However they are restricted where they can fly. Ullom is hoping his cochlear implants help him overcome those limitations. 

"I'm able to start picking up words I can hear over the head sets.  Because of all the engine noise--the cochlear implant more focuses on the noises coming from the headset," Ullom said.

His abilities have impressed his flight instructor. 

"He's got great stick and rudder skills.  He loves to fly. He is persistent. I think that is probably his best quality. He’s not giving up," Isackson said.

While he's getting a degree in computer technology as a back-up plan, Ullom ultimately hopes to become a commercial pilot one day.

"It's a very long road because you have to have 1500 hours logged in the airplane, it's expensive and I have to get my hearing situation worked out before I can start moving on," Ullom said.

"I think he'll make it," Isakson said.

As his dreams take flight, Ullom is enjoying the ride.

"I know my whole family is proud of how far I am and I'm pushing to not give up what I want to do for a potential future career," Ullom said.

Ullom must pass a medical test that includes a hear test that will allow him to go in controlled airspaces. He needs another 40 hours of flight time to go until he has his private pilot's license.

Here's the story we did on Nick back in 1995

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