Flight teams from two Utah schools took off last week during a regional competition in Colorado.
For the second year in a row, Westminster College's team took home several top awards, including second place overall, and will advance to the national competition to be held in April 2008. A team from Utah State University also brought home a few recognitions but competed with a smaller, less-experienced team than in previous years.
"I feel we did well overall, placing just behind the U.S. Air Force Academy and well ahead of most of the other schools," said Westminster student pilot Michael Manning. He said the competition at Rangely Airport in northwestern Colorado was strong but friendly.
Student aviators compete in several categories, including navigation and flight planning, preflight inspections, safety and aircraft recognition, timed flights, as well as landing with and without power.
"What's great about these competitions is that you not only practice to do well in the individual events, but you are also practicing in preparation for your future career," said Westminster flight team captain Mark West. "These competitions actually transfer over to what you do for a living."
Westminster sent 12 students to the competition while USU sent only three. Participation in the National Intercollegiate Flying Association competitions promotes professionalism, standards and friendly competition among student pilots. It also provides scholarship opportunities and recognition for the top students.
"They have to make weather decisions and flying decisions that require a great deal of maturity," said Nolan Clifford, director of the aviation program at USU. "They're not easy decisions to make, but they figure it out and make the right decisions."
Clifford said students not only have to fly the planes but be prepared to face any number of situations in the air. USU's small representation at the event was due to late notice of the competition and decreased student interest, but Clifford said the team will return to the competition in full force next year.
"We're going to be a force to be reckoned with," he said.
Utah Valley State College has also sent student aviators to the competition in the past but hasn't been actively participating for several years. Flying Wolverines Club director Dustin Berlin said he observed the competition this year but sent no competitors. The school plans to be more involved in the coming years, as "students want to have a chance to participate," Berlin said.
The experience gives students the opportunity to compete but also provides interaction with other student pilots and shows students what they need to improve on to be competitive in the flight market.
"It's really cool to have a venue where pilots can go and practice their skills in a sports team environment like a track meet," West said. "Our team has only been around for five years, but we've made nationals three times now, and these competitions are great for having fun, practicing our skills and providing camaraderie."All three college and university aviation programs in Utah are nationally accredited, as well as regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration, and provide students with training that includes new equipment, dynamic flight simulators and various classroom work. USU offers a maintenance management program in addition to regular flight programs.