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Liberty flight team captures 17th straight regional NIFA title

NIFA team co-captain Matthew Hollow, who scored the second most points among all of the competitors, comes in for a landing in one of Liberty’s Cessna Skyhawks. (Photos by Alyssa Stone)


For the 17th consecutive year, Liberty University’s National Intercollegiate Flying Association (NIFA) team finished first in the SAFECON (Safety And Flight Evaluation Conference) Championship standings in the Region X competition held Wednesday through Saturday in Chesapeake, Va.

Liberty’s team of 15 student pilots accumulated 711 points to place first in the six-school field, followed by Averett University (588), the U.S. Naval Academy (467), Elizabeth City State (430), Guilford Community & Technical College (256.5), and Hampton University (185.5). Liberty also received the competition’s safety award.

The event was hosted by Liberty at the Chesapeake Regional Airport (KCPK).

Liberty team members (from left) Cole Cameron, Bond, Andy Kim, Tyler Jones, and Josh Cardoza go over pre-flight procedures.

“Our NIFA team did an amazing job this week representing Liberty but more importantly Christ,” said Katelyn Gallagher (’17), Assistant Professor of Flight Science who serves as the NIFA faculty advisor after coaching the team last year and previously competing on the team. “Each team member had a smile on their face each morning and was ready to compete or just help out their fellow teammates. The team (headed) back to Lynchburg with some trophies in hand along with a wealth of knowledge and experience.”

The win qualifies the team for SAFECON Nationals at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wis., May 8-13.

“God put together a great team this year, and seeing this team grow over the competition was a blessing,” said co-captain Maison Kasyanov, who served as co-captain along with Matthew Hollo. “This event showed that NIFA events are progressing. We learned to stay on our toes and will practice more intensely in order to compete against larger aviation schools (at nationals).”

The team, coached by Josh Engberg, finished runner-up to Averett (403) in the Flight Events Championship with 358 points but dominated the Cougars in the Ground Events Championship, 353-185, sweeping the top five spots of the Ground Trainer exercises with Kasyanov (66.0) placing first followed by Gyeongmin Andy Kim (110.0), Jongwon Kim (125), Noah Bond (129), and Tyler Jones (178).

Hollo was the second-highest scoring competitor overall with 118 points, behind Averett’s Ricardo Roman-Flores (129.5). Liberty teammates Robert Rogers (108), Wonjung Richard Eum (105), and Olivia Smith (100) finished fifth, sixth, and seventh in total points, respectively.

Liberty dominated the Unlimited Navigation competition with the top four teams — piloted by Smith (53.34), Hollo (61.74), Rogers (62.0), and Eum (65.74) with safety observers Cardoza, Jongqon Kim, Jones, and Kasyanov, respectively. Kasyanov also won the Simulated Comprehensive Aircraft Navigation (SCAN) competition with 25 correct procedures in an elapsed time of 1 hour while Liberty’s Joshua Cardoza placed fourth with his 20 correct in a span of 59:10.

“We practice using historical tests, but this year’s SCAN test and Ground Trainer event were more challenging and required significant adaptability in order to overcome the difficulties,” Kasyanov said.

Liberty NIFA team members Joel Cihak, Noah Bond, and Jadah Hodges pose for a photo during a break in the competition.

Liberty had five of the top six contestants in Computer Accuracy, led by Jongwon Kim (19.0) and Cole Cameron (18.0).

Joel Cihak was selected as Liberty’s Outstanding Team Member after he finished second in the Message Drop event with an 85-point rating as dropmaster with Rogers piloting the plane.

U.S. Naval Academy’s tandem of dropmaster Nate Williams and pilot Jake Kiggans won that event while Liberty’s SeoungHee Kim (dropmaster) and Eum (pilot) placed fifth. Eum also won the Power-Off Landing competition with a score of 120 and was ranked as the second overall Top Pilot with 103 points, behind Averett’s Blake Ellison (113). Rogers finished fourth with 98 and Hollo placed sixth with 87.

In the Aircraft Recognition competition, Kasyanov (97) and Hollo (88) placed fifth and sixth, respectively, and Hollo (31), Rogers (31), and Cihak (29), placed second, third, and fourth, respectively, in the Aircraft Preflight Inspection competition.

Andy Kim, Robert Rogers, Olivia Smith, Maison Kasyanov, Tyler Jones, Cardoza, Becky Hunt, and Cameron celebrate on the tarmac.
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