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Flying Bobcats land in 4th place at regional aviation competition

Elisabeth Weems | Oct 30, 2017
NIFA Competition

Flying Bobcats land in 4th place at regional aviation competition

Elisabeth Weems | Oct 30, 2017

The Russ College’s flight team -- the Flying Bobcats -- placed fourth at the National Intercollegiate Flying Association (NIFA) SAFECON competition last week.

SAFECON, which took place Oct. 16-21 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, gives participants from five mid-western universities the chance to test their aviation skills, apply classroom knowledge, and network with fellow students and aviation professionals through a series of both competitive and noncompetitive activities. 

Competing against Bowling Green University, Kent State University, Ohio State University and Western Michigan University, the Flying Bobcats team comprised Paul Hillard and Ryan Wilson, freshman aviation flight majors; Sarah Bailey, Maddie Buch, Sean Clunn and Holden Rawn, sophomore aviation flight majors; Gareth Bussa, a junior majoring in aviation flight with a minor in aviation management; Brian Rogers, a senior aviation flight major with a minor in aviation management; and Rebecca Sedlak, a senior double majoring in aviation flight and aviation management.

Coach and certified flight instructor Allison Dennis has been practicing with the team since January. She said because this was her first year with the team, she needed to first learn each member’s strengths, as well as understand the dynamic of the team and its past experience in order to create training materials, including practice exams. Preparation also including working out pre-flight bugs and teaching members how to “spot” land in an actual aircraft. 

“Overall, [SAFECON] gave me a wider perspective of the goals we have to set for the future,” Dennis said. “They’re a group with a lot of potential, especially to succeed in the next few years as we grow the team and focus on recruiting new members and networking opportunities.”


Flight competitions included power-off landing, navigation and message drop events. Ground competitions included a computer accuracy test, a simulated comprehensive aircraft navigation (SCAN) test, a safety board competition, and an aircraft recognition test. 

The team placed in numerous events including the power-off landing competition, which tests pilot’s maneuvering and landing skills. Bussa placed 4th, Rogers placed 6th and Clunn placed 10th. Two students placed in the navigation challenge: Rogers and Clunn took 7th, and Sedlak and Wilson took 10th.

Students who placed in the top 10 slots for individual competitions earned certificates, while those placing in the top three overall earned plaques and will continue on to the national SAFECON competition in Indiana next May. 

Bussa noted that other top placing teams had 20 students or more on their teams, which allowed students to specialize roles. He said for this reason, expanding the team and recruiting more members is a goal for next year. In the meantime, having access to flight simulators and other equipment in aviation classes helps current members to better prepare for next year’s competition and beyond. 

“With aviation, it’s a hands-on learning experience,” Bussa said. “Our equipment enables us to get that real-world experience to be able to train and learn what to do in situations like an engine failure. These are real-world experiences that help us to be prepared.”