By Ann Patton
Academy Spirit staff
Colorado’s quirky fall weather may have stalled some events a bit but it didn’t stop the Academy from hosting District 1 competition of the National Intercollegiate Flying Association’s Safety and Flight Evaluation Conference.
“Weather has been a problem but overall we’ve been very competitive,” said Cadet 1st Class Spencer Bell, captain of the Academy flying team.
The competition ran from Oct. 3 – 11.
Schools competing from Colorado include Aims Community College in Greeley, Metropolitan State College in Denver and Colorado Northwestern Community College in Rangely. Other schools included Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Mont., and Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The Academy finished first overall followed by Aims and Colorado Northwestern. Cadet Bell was named the top pilot.
“They did a good job, and we virtually got all the events done,” said Coach Bert Boyce of the Academy’s participation. This was its 23rd year in the NIFA district competition.
Ground competitions involved flying events including short-field and power-off landings, VFR navigation and message drop accuracy. Ground events included simulated comprehensive air navigation, flight computer accuracy, simulator and aircraft pre-flight.
The Academy will go up against 10 other regional winners across the country in May 2010 for the NIFA finals at Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Ind.
NIFA’s aims are to advance and improve aviation education in the country by promoting flight competitions and bringing aviation students and professionals together. Seventy-five schools participate.
“I love everything about it,” Davis Caldwell from Metropolitan State said about flying. “It’s like an office in the sky, and you can get a job with it.”
He received his private pilot’s license two years ago and is planning a career as a bush pilot based in Seattle. He was inspired to learn to fly by his uncle who flew the F-16 Fighting Falcon.
“I’m having a blast out here,” said Eric Lawhead from Colorado Northwestern, who added the competition gives his team to see where they stand against other schools.
“Colorado Northwestern is a great school with great instructors, head coach and mechanics. They get us up and going fast,” he said. “It’s a great place to fly.”
Like Mr. Caldwell, he was inspired by an uncle, in his case, an Air Force test pilot. He believed his toughest competition for him personally would be the aircraft identifications, and the most fun-landing events.
Cadet 1st Class Christopher Horn, from Athens, Ga., gained his enthusiasm for flying from his grandfather who owned a small plane. He saved his own money for flying lessons and his pilot’s license before coming to the Academy.
“My parents told me, ‘If you want to do it, work for it,'” he recalled.
The pre-med major enjoys flying for its liberating, wide-open environment and for its challenges.
“It’s an opportunity for having always something new to learn. There is no such thing as a perfect flight,” he said.
Cadet Bell’s parents laughed when, at age 3 in his car seat, he announced he wanted to be a cadet at the Air Force Academy.
At age 16 in Fort Worth, Texas, his aviation career began in earnest when he received his license.
He said being team captain is definitely worthwhile.
“It’s lots of work but very rewarding to see talented and motivated people all working toward a common goal,” he said.
The Academy team is composed of 18 members, six from each of the upper classes. Four-degrees must undergo a rigorous screening process, plus hold a private pilot license, before they are accepted on the team.
The team is authorized by the Air Force Education and Training Command, and members enroll in Airmanship 465.
Coach Boyce said the flying team provides leadership and character-building opportunities besides flight hours. Hosting the district competition this year is but one example.
“Sure, I’m proud of their flying,” he said. “But it’s the little things that make them realize it’s more than about flying airplanes.”
There is only one thing Mr. Caldwell hates about flying, and his fellow aviators would probably agree.