UVU aviation students Kristen Verde and Greg Waugh taxied to a stop, lifted open the cockpit window and let out a victorious yell.
The exuberant duo had just completed the last leg of a 7-hour flight back from the Safety and Flight Evaluation Conference, a national university flight competition held at The Ohio State University this month. SAFECON, the largest amateur flight competition of its kind, hosts dozens of schools that go head to head in several categories including flight coaching, navigation and landing. UVU finished with an aggregate score placing the school 27th overall.
Diane Hager, UVU’s chief flight instructor, said students and instructors were extremely happy with the team’s results; this is only the second year that UVU has participated in competitions at any level and this year’s Ohio trip represents a first at a national competition.
“Schools that finished in the finals this year told us that they had attended national competitions for three years before they were ever even ranked,” she said. “Just getting ranked was a big deal – we made a splash, we left a footprint, and that was our goal.”
Verdi, UVU team captain and a 21 year-old from Long Island, New York is the first pilot in her family. Flying since the age of 16, her decision to come to Utah and enroll in the UVU School of Aviation was an easy one.
“UVU has an incredible flight training reputation,” Verdi said.
In fact, Verdi’s parents fully supported her decision to learn amateur flight – a curriculum with a few more risks than a typical college education – in Orem.
“Some parents might be hesitant but my parents have been very supportive,” Verdi said. “My dad even came out to Ohio for the competition.”
UVU’s team members had to compete at home for a chance to attend SAFECON. There were 20 finalists at the beginning of the semester and only ten eventually earned a place on the team.
“I feel like one of the lucky ones,” said Alan Dennis, one of UVU’s contestants. Dennis placed fourth in the instrument flight rules (IFR) simulation event and was the only team member to win a medal.
“It was a great feeling – the simulation was going better than I thought it would,” Deniis said. “Part way through I tightened up on my (focus) and just enjoyed the ride.”
UVU boasts a fleet of 23 DA40 Diamond aircraft– the largest in the nation, according to Ryan Tanner, the program’s director of academic support. With each of the competition planes valued at roughly $400,000, the investment for the university is significant.
“This is a great program,” said Russ Hopkinson, the team’s director of safety. “For their first chance to compete nationally, these students were just amazing. … We’ll be back next year.”
View a video presentation of the national competition by visiting the link below, courtesy of UVU Aviation: