Athens, OH 24 October 2017 –
Earlier this month, I spent a week and a half in Central Michigan. Ohio University’s Flying Bobcats were competing in Region III of NIFA SAFECON. SAFECON is a competition against 5 flight teams in the Midwest. We compete against Ohio State, Western Michigan, Kent State and Bowling Green. It’s a great week of friendly rivalries, trying to compete for the top 3 positions to go to nationals.
As a flight team, we compete in ground and flying events. For me, the flying events are a blast. With flying, we compete in landings, navigational runs and message drop. Ground events consist of E6b, SCAN and Aircraft Recognition, preflight, sim and safety.
As a small team, we knew it was going to be a challenge to compete against the larger teams. We practiced multiple times a week, trying our best to be prepared for the events. We left on a Friday morning, flying our four aircraft up.
I flew up an aircraft hoping to get as close to Michigan as I could since there was some inclement weather. The aircraft I fly is not capable of flying into clouds. So as I flew up towards Michigan, I stopped in Port Clinton, Ohio to fuel up and grab some lunch.
Flying long distances in a small aircraft can be very fun. You can stay low to the ground and see the view beneath you. We stopped and fueled up, grabbed a delicious meal at a small airport diner and departed heading for Battle Creek Michigan.
On the way, the weather became clear blue skies and unrestricted visibility. Passing over the farm fields of Michigan and seeing the small communities was amazing. One town had a corn maze that was shaped like a bunny eating a carrot. Others you can tell were prepping for their fall festivities.
Being able to see the world beneath you is unimaginable, especially flying at a lower altitude. If you fly lower, you can see more detail on the ground beneath you.
We arrived at Battle Creek, Michigan to begin the 10 days of working hard and preparing for the competition. We were supposed to practice flying the weekend we got there, but Michigan weather decided that it wasn’t the right thing to do. Rainfall that weekend broke the 2-day record in Battle Creek, Michigan for the most rain. 2.5 inches caused us to only practice ground events. We practiced at the hotel as well as the airport, hoping for a break in the weather so us fliers could get out and practice our navigation runs as well as landings.
Our biggest weakness was the ground events. With there only being 10 of us on the team, most of us had to do every single event. We practiced our e6b’s, plotting our routes and studied our FAR/AIM’s. Whenever the actual ground events started, we had all prepared as much as we could.
In each ground event, you have 5 people testing, giving you 24 other people to compete against. This was very challenging and stressful because you knew there were other competitors out there that only studied for that one ground event.
The best part arrived, flying events. Flying events are the most exciting event to do throughout the week. Pilot slots on a team are very tough to get. Each person on the team with his or her private pilot license may compete for a position on the team.
There are a total of 5 landers and 3 navigation pilots on a team. In the landing competitions, you try to land on a specific line. They judge you on how precise you are, if you’re using proper techniques and how long or short you are to that line. Landings can be very challenging depending on the winds on the ground and in the air.
During the competition, the winds on the ground were gusting over 25 miles and hour and the winds at 2,000 feet were blowing well over 50 miles an hour. This gave you a disadvantage on your pattern techniques as well as landing. Whenever you land with a lot of wind, you have to add more power to keep the airplane flying. This can be very challenging whenever you’re doing a flight when you have to pull all the power out and land with no power in; basically, you have to glide the airplane down to the runway.
Overall through the event, we had a great time together and competing against other teams. We all had personal bests throughout the event and it showed from last year’s competition in Bowling Green. We didn’t get the place we wanted at the end, but next year the team will be better.