Cadet members of Air Force Academy Precision Flying Team are focused on preparing for nationals after winning their regional competition for the 35th consecutive year.
To stay sharp, the team traveled to Meadows Field Airport in Bakersfield, Calif., to train with five other collegiate teams from Feb. 26 to March 5.
In all, 23 cadets, six members of the academy-based 557th Flying Training Squadron, two contract maintenance specialists and three aircraft — two T-51s (Cessna 150s) and one T-41 (Cessna 172) — made the trip.
Cadets competed in short-field landings, power-off landings, traditional navigation, message drop, aircraft preflight, ground-trainer and instrument flight rules events.
“We were invited to attend by the host university as an opportunity to practice operations and measure ourselves against other schools; however, our scores won’t be counted since our team already qualified for national competition as a result of our Region 1 victory in October,” Capt. Ryan Erickson, flying team assistant director of operations assigned to the 557th Flying Training Squadron, said in a news release.
“This regional competition is an excellent opportunity to practice and sharpen deployment operations as a team and prepare for nationals against highly competitive aviation schools.”
During the Region 1 National Intercollegiate Flying Association’s Safety and Flight Evaluation Conference, cadets logged more than 46 flight hours while flying 63 missions. By winning the competition, they automatically qualify for nationals May 9-14 in Columbus, Ohio.
“One thing this team does an amazing job at is really pushing each other. Everybody knows they can come up and show what they have, but it really gets put to the test when we are pushing each other, said senior Connor Portlock, the spring 2022 flying team commander from St. Louis.
“I think it is important to stay humble but also stay motivated to keep doing well and keep performing to that standard we hold our flying team members to.”
According to the news release, the cadet team dominated the 12 competition events designed to challenge flying skills at last October’s regional competition. In timed events, competitors calculated precise navigation routes and timing, demonstrated aircraft visual identification skills, exercised attention to detail in pre-flight activities, and analyzed environmental conditions.
One event required full mission planning with E-6B metal slide rule for calculation of flight paths, speed, altitude and more.
Morgan Modica, a senior from Long Island, N.Y., was part of a two-person team that had to calculate precise navigation routes and timing.
They were judged on plotting a route on paper charts and flying over specific points at precisely the planned time.
“It is my favorite event, not only because the teamwork it involves but just the attention to detail,” Modica said. “In aviation, you need to be able to rely on your wingmen and your teammates. I think that we do a very, very good job with that.”
Senior Giles Beebe, the fall 2021 flying team commander, echoed Modica’s perspective.
“Competitions are a fantastic opportunity for the academy flying team to see just how far we can push ourselves in the competitive realm,” Beebe said in a news release. “The very nature of competing against other schools brings out the best in each flying team cadet and takes us to a level we didn’t even know we could reach.”
Learning to fly is an airmanship course open to all cadets. Those who compete in it are encouraged to try out for the flying team.
Ten freshmen were recently selected and will be joining the team in the coming weeks, including a fourth woman, according to Portlock.
Modica said everyone on the team loves to compete.
“I think that competing and being on the team is an amazing opportunity for all of our team members, because it not only gives us time to bond as teammates and compete with each other, but also just develop ourselves as pilots and help develop each other in airmanship and make sure that we are being safe but also competing in a way that is beneficial for us and the Air Force," Modica said.
Lt. Col. Matthew Spitler, commander of the 557th Flying Training Squadron, said that history shows that nearly all of the cadets who participate on the flying team end up as Air Force pilots.
Spitler said that cadet pilots with outstanding character, strong academics and military bearing are selected for Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training, which he described as the premier pilot training location.
“It is definitely a faster track to get to fighter and bomber platforms,” Spitler said. “The leadership and aviation experience flying team cadets gain is invaluable. It prepares them well for future life in an operational squadron.”
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