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Flying Salukis again finish among top three in nation

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. – For the seventh year in a row, the Southern Illinois University Flying Salukis finished among the top three at the National Intercollegiate Flying Association championships. 

Highlighted by a performance by graduating senior Bradley C. Smith, who was second in overall scoring, the Flying Salukis finished third in the 2017 national collegiate aviation championships Sunday at The Ohio State University. The team won titles in 2011, 2014, 2015, second in 2016, and third in 2012 and 2013. The team has nine national titles dating back to 1977. 

“I am extraordinarily proud of the team's performance, and I am humbled by the experience,” Kevin Miller, coach and assistant instructor in the Department of Aviation Management and Flight, said. “The Flying Salukis have become one of SIU's great traditions of success, and leading this incredible team of young men and women has been a privilege.” 

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Prescott won a second consecutive title with 500 points. The University of North Dakota was second with 400, with the Flying Salukis at 361 points. Twenty-eight teams competed May 9-14 at OSU Airport in Columbus, Ohio. 

Connor E. Schlottman, a senior in aviation management from McDonough, Ga., won the title in aircraft preflight inspection, second in SCAN, or simulated comprehensive aircraft navigation, and was seventh overall in scoring. Smith, from Dove Canyon, Calif., scored 114.5 points in six events, including third place finishes in navigation, power off landing, and SCAN. The top pilot last fall in Region VIII, Smith earned an internship with United Airlines for his performance as the second top scoring contestant at the national competition, Miller said. 

“Connor and Brad are both extremely talented pilots and students, and it's great to see their countless hours of practice and preparation rewarded on the national stage,” Miller said, adding that Sean Gipe, a former Flying Saluki member, is the team’s aircraft preflight inspection coach. Gipe “has done an amazing job of putting our team in position to take top honors in that event,” Miller said. 

Ground events are aircraft preflight inspection, aircraft recognition, computer accuracy, crew resource management, ground trainer simulator, IFR (instrument flight rules) simulator and simulated comprehensive area navigation (SCAN). Flight events are message drop, navigation, power-off landing and short-field approach and landing. 

The top 20 contestants in each event earn points for their team. Four Flying Salukis finished second through fifth in SCAN. 

“Putting up that level of performance simply would not be possible without the year-round dedication to excellence that we have ingrained in our team, and the aviation program as a whole at SIU,” Miller said. 

Results are available at https://nifa.aero/safecon-2017-results/ and clicking on “Full SAFECON 2017 Results.” 

In all, seven of 18 team members scored. Flying Salukis finishing in the top 20 and who also earned bachelor degrees in aviation management on May 13 were Greysen H. Harlow, of Monmouth, 12th overall, and Teddy M. Keenan, of Evanston, who was 17th. Other scorers were Dalton P. Thompson, a senior in aviation management, Geneva; Jonathan H. Ezell, sophomore, aviation technologies, LaGrange Park; and Robert A. Kay, junior, aviation management and flight, from Plainfield. 

Ezell and Kay are captains for next fall. 

Kindra Wendling, a senior in aviation management from Altamont, won the unscored certified flight instructor competition. The event involves planning a ground instructional lesson and giving that lesson to a panel of judges who then ask questions to probe the contestant’s knowledge. Wendling did a “remarkable job of preparing a lecture” on emergency off-airport landings, Miller said. 

None of the success would be possible if not for the support that team members and coaches give to one another, said Miller, who moved up to head coach recently after former coach and flight instructor Jacob R. Schwarz left to work for a regional air carrier. Miller said the traveling assistant coaches -- Gipe, a certified airframe and powerplant maintenance technician in the department’s in-house aircraft maintenance facility, and Skyler Droll and Max Reh, who are assistant instructors -- made his job “so much easier.” The support and knowledge of former head coaches Schwarz, Nathan Lincoln, and James Libuszowski were also “instrumental in making our nationals bid successful,” Miller said. 

“Our team is a family, and for whatever inevitable friction arises in a competitive group of talented people, there is always a lot of love and respect, and we do not allow each other to struggle alone either personally or professionally,” he said. 

Miller competed against the Flying Salukis while attending the University of Illinois. 

Other team members with major and hometown are: Austin Alzapiedi, senior, aviation management and flight, Sterling, Mass.; Matthew Browning, sophomore, aviation flight, Tyrone, Ga.; Angel Cochran, sophomore, aviation management and flight, Bloomington; Colin Heisler, freshman, aviation flight, Mount Prospect; Dillon P. Keppel, sophomore, aviation management and flight, Wildwood, Mo.; Trent Medernach, junior, aviation technologies, Batavia; Zachary Rawlings, sophomore, aviation management; Columbia; Andrew Roadcap, sophomore aviation management, Champaign; Craig Schwandner, senior, aviation management, Wentzville, Mo.; and Brody Wilson, junior, aviation management and flight, Elmhurst. 

More information on the university’s aviation program is available at aviation.siu.edu.