Sep 30, 2008

Liberty aeronautics team ready to take to the skies

by Daniel Martinez

A group of Liberty students, some of whom go by such names as Hawk Eye, Upset, Adlance and Uzzi, will soon be squaring off against aviation students from several other schools in the upcoming Region X flying competition from Oct. 29 through Nov. 1.

Liberty athletic teams may have captured a number of Big South Championships during the 2007-2008 school year, but Liberty’s most current competitive dynasty is arguably the four consecutive first place finishes in the Region X aviation contest. The winner of each fall regional contest will then compete in May for the National Championship held in St. Louis.

Recently christened the School of Aeronautics, Liberty’s aviation department has been participating in the National Intercollegiate Flying Association competition for six years against 70 of the nation’s best aviation schools, including the Air Force Academy, Kent State, Ohio State and Texas Tech. This year, Liberty’s regional opponents — including the Virginia Tech Hokies and United States Naval Academy Midshipmen — will be coming to the Lynchburg Regional Airport for the competition.

“We are very glad to have them back on our home court this year,” said Jonathan “Stork” Washburn, a former Marine Corps officer in his first season as coach. “We have been ranked as high as the top 20 in the nation among flight schools, and we are looking to improve that number this year.”

All Liberty students with at least a private pilot’s license are invited to try out for the team, according to School of Aeronautics Chairman Ernie Rogers. Those who score best on the qualifying tests are chosen.

This year’s team consists of 15 members including two captains and features such colorful nicknames as Elvis, Kanye, Chadder, Too Tall and Ski. The team members will be suiting up to partake in a number of different ground and aerial events in the contest.

The ground events, Washburn says, are “multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank exams that test team members’ knowledge in many areas that typical pilots encounter every day.”

From aircraft preflight inspection to aircraft recognition and Simulated Comprehensive Aircraft Navigation, these events are designed to prove that team members really know how to approach, handle and understand aircraft.

Flying events at the competition include power-off landing, navigation and a message drop. These events “test the team on precision flying,” Washburn said.

“The pilots must know the aircraft and the weather well enough to fly half the traffic pattern without engine power and then set the aircraft down within 300 feet of a white stripe,” Washburn said.

Liberty will enter the maximum number of participants into each event, typically five students. Rogers described the competition as being “like a track meet,” where each individual student competes to win points in each event. Two of the flying events, the navigation and message drop tests, will feature two people in the aircraft. Otherwise, students will fly solo as they attempt to outperform rivals and honor their schools.

Entering into these contests will be the 15 aviation students assembled under Washburn. The two captains are Eric Carter (IHOP) and Josh Stadtlander (Too Tall). Under them, John Iazzi (Uzzi) is serving his third year with the team, and four people are serving their second years: Beth Partie (Animal), Luke Vander Wiele (Elvis), Chad McClure (Chadder), Christian Traxler (Junior). The team’s first-year participants are Reid Montgomery (Murphy), Lance Welch (Adlance), Jeff Wietholter (Upset), Jonathan McCracken (Hawk Eye), Jeff Schlaudt (MIT), Tom V. (Ski), Austin Wright (Birdy) and Andy Gomez (Kanye). Led by Washburn, they will tackle the events five at a time in an attempt to bring Liberty a fifth-consecutive victory.

The winner will be determined, Washburn said, once all the events have taken place and all points tallied. Individuals can receive trophies or medals for their performances, but the real prize is the regional trophy, which includes an invitation to St. Louis with a chance to compete for the National Championship in May. The fact that a regional championship trophy — let alone a national championship trophy — would be a terrific new decoration to the School of Aeronautics main office is not lost on Washburn.

“This year, we hope to continue the flight team’s tradition of success in the Regionals and go on to compete against the top flight schools in the nation,” Washburn said.

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