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Flying Bobcats flight team soars in safety at national aviation competition

Ohio University's Flying Bobcats team of student aviators from the Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering and Technology earned a top safety award for the second year in a row at the 2013 NIFA National SAFECON aviation competition May 5-11 in Columbus, Ohio, at Ohio State University's KOSU airport.

After earning second place in the American Airlines safety competition last year, this year's finish was just one point behind winner Auburn University in the competition safety category.

Team Coach and Flight Instructor George Armann said that having no returning seniors this year made the achievement that much more notable. 

"This is the 'Top Gun' of general aviation," Armann said. "I'm really excited to see us compete with the best aviators in the U.S. and do as well as we did."

After arriving May 3 to practice for three days prior to the kickoff, the 10 student pilots faced 28 competing teams rotating through a week of events that included a manual flight computer activity, simulated comprehensive aircraft navigation (SCAN), a general assembly for displaying team aircraft, and a series of flight challenges to test maneuvering and equipment proficiency.

Team captain Dylan Ewing, a junior aviation flight and aviation management major who competed in nine events, said the experience will help the young Flying Bobcats team prepare for a big finish at next year's SAFECON.

"This year was definitely a big learning year for a lot of people," Ewing said. He and fellow juniors Jessica Belzer and Grant Rhue were the only repeat competitors from last year's SAFECON in Salina, Kansas. As for returning to nationals in 2014, "We should be on top of our game for that," he said.

In addition to testing their piloting skills, competitors took the opportunity to network with airline representatives who came out to observe and, in some cases, serve as judges.

Armann added that participating in flight competitions is beneficial to students because it emphasizes the importance of safety and proficiency in general aviation - how working pilots create for good.

"Many of the airlines and regional airlines were there to see and meet with the students," Armann said. "Many of the students made contacts for a possible future job when they graduate."