Reel Progress

Boeing helps nonprofit design fly fishing equipment for veterans and others with missing or disabled arms

November 11, 2015 in Community, Commercial

Boeing employee Michael Daniels was severely injured while serving in Iraq in 2007 after an explosive device detonated during anti-terrorism training. The explosion broke every bone in his body on the left side and he suffered numerous internal injuries. Daniels spent more than a month in a coma and finally woke up in a European hospital with limited use of the limbs on his left side. He was discharged from the U.S. Navy and came home to begin a long rehabilitation.

Daniels underwent physical therapy for months and, today, he can walk mostly normally. But his left arm and hand have little or no feeling and limited mobility. Daniels now works for Boeing as a developer in Learning, Training and Development, but his disability has prevented him from enjoying one of his favorite hobbies: fly fishing.

“Because I lost my elbow in the explosion and have a lot of nerve damage in my arm, it makes it difficult to tie flies or even have a good grip,” said Daniels. “I also wasn’t able to have the coordination to get a good cast of the rod out into the water. I actually didn’t think I would ever fly fish again.”

He can now return to fly fishing thanks to a collaboration between Boeing and a local non-profit. Members of the non-profit came up with an innovative device so that disabled fly-fishing hobbyists can get back into the sport.

Olympic Peninsula Fishing Innovations (OPFI) invented a device called the “Casting Partner” that allows those missing a limb or with limited mobility to cast their rod while fly fishing. The non-profit built a rod holder that is strapped to one’s chest and holds the rod steady, allowing it to be controlled with one arm. OPFI went through several iterations by testing it and perfecting it through input from veterans and others.

Veteran and Boeing employee Daniels tried out the device over a couple of sessions with members of the OPFI team and he was impressed. Daniels believes veterans and others who have given up fly fishing can re-enter the sport with this device.

“For people who are worse off than me with their arm missing; this would be a great tool.  For me with limited mobility, I could see this being very beneficial,” Daniels said.

He also is impressed with Boeing for providing resources to make this device a reality.

Once OPFI had a mostly-final prototype, members of the team came to Boeing through former employees and asked for a producible design that could be assembled more quickly.

“Everybody thought I was crazy when I knocked on Boeing’s door and asked them if they would listen to our idea for the Casting Partner,” said Dean Childs, one of the founders of OPFI. “But we knew with Boeing’s help that we could probably figure out a way to get it to everybody we know and that would be wonderful.”

Commercial Airplanes Tool Engineers Dickson Dabell and Kirk Skaggs pitched in and provided their skills with the endorsement of Mike Vander Wel, Equipment and Tool Engineering chief engineer in Production Engineering. Dabell undertook a design review of the OPFI prototype and then developed 3D models using CATIA software.  Dabell was able to refine the prototype, reduce the number of parts and make it easier for OPFI to assemble the finished product.

Skaggs spearheaded the initial additive manufacturing effort and used a 3D printer to create two of the solid pieces designed by Dabell. On an ongoing basis, Boeing provides the 3D-printed pieces for Casting Partner whenever there is spare capacity on the 3D printer.  Sometimes the parts are created during training for Boeing mechanics or during regular production runs of environmental control system ducting. These pieces are regularly provided to OPFI for use in their production process.

“Being a part of this project has just been fantastic, it means really a lot to me,” said Dabell. “OPFI is all volunteer, they spend their own time and money and it just gives me a wonderful feeling to be part of this.”

Daniels echoes Boeing’s commitment to the project.

“I truly respect the company more because of the fact that there is a lot of opportunity that they are addressing that has nothing to do with building planes, it’s about the community,” Daniels said. “In that sense I feel very privileged that I’m allowed to be a part of it.”

OPFI would like to eventually produce 50 devices per month but expects demand to grow as the device is distributed to those in need. The non-profit will provide the device, free of charge, to those veterans and others who want to use the Casting Partner.

“Fly fishing is great therapy, absolutely great therapy,” said Childs. “It gets people’s minds off their problems and they find things they can do that they didn’t think they could do. Casting Partner provides the ability to do that.”

By Jordan Longacre and Bret Jensen