KSU pilots flying high after qualifying for national competition

John Hitch

Kent State’s Precision Flight Team established itself as the best core of collegiate pilots in the state last week at the Region III Safety and Flight Evaluation Conference in Athens.

“This is the best we’ve ever been,” team captain Mike Fox said.

The senior flight technology major’s squadron beat its state rivals but was narrowly defeated overall by Western Michigan University. Kent State qualified for the third straight year, and will head to the National SAFECON in May in Nashville. The National Intercollegiate Flying Association governs SAFECON.

During the flight events, the team scored higher than the other contending schools, which also included host Ohio University and the Ohio State University. Fox finished at the top spot in the “power off” landing event, which tests the pilot’s ability to land accurately on the runway under strict conditions. Fox enjoyed similar success in the navigation event and other landing exercises, and the judges deemed him the third best pilot overall in the competition.

Region III started the practical portion of the tournament Wednesday with the navigation trials. The margin for error in the five-leg, approximately hour-long flight, was slim, said Evan Taylor, sophomore aviation management major.

“If you want to win at nationals, you better be within five seconds (of your estimated time),” Taylor said.

Co-captain Mike Bertram, senior flight technology major, and his roommate and flight planner, John Brock, junior flight technology major, both said developing a strong communication while living together gave them an advantage in the cockpit — and fifth place in the competition.

“I know what he’s thinking,” Brock said, which he said led to Bertram’s smooth execution of his flight plan.

Taylor showcased his talents in the landing events and the message drop, in which the team tries to hand drop an object onto the target below.

The ground events proved to hinder Kent State’s efforts to defeat Western Michigan, which has now won the Region III SAFECON 18 consecutive times.

Bertram expressed his pride in his team, but warned competitors, “This wasn’t even our best performance. We definitely won’t be intimidated (by other schools).”

The captains plan to focus on the ground events, which are mostly multiple choice exams, which Bertram admitted needs “a little bit of tweaking” if Kent State hopes to upset Western Michigan in Nashville.

The 18 members that journeyed to SAFECON will now spend the rest of the semester playing catch up in their classes and preparing for finals in December. Training will resume during winter break.

While he is quick to give the credit to the team leaders, I. Richmond Nettey, senior program director for aeronautics, has been a driving force in fostering the team’s sudden emergence as Ohio’s best.

“The program has concentrated on the flight team excelling,” he said, adding that he expects the “premier” pilots to continue with a strong performance at the national competition.

Kent State owns the state’s first nationally accredited aviation program, and Nettey has plans to reinforce the College of Technology’s support by bolstering it with financial backing from the university. Nettey said this would be used to “upgrade the facilities at the Kent State Airport.” He stated that last week’s showing “validated” the program’s commitment to excellence, and hopes to reward that excellence with state-of-the-art facilities, superior to all other Ohio universities.

Contact College of Technology reporter John Hitch at [email protected].