The Kansas State Polytechnic Flight Team has landed the honor of competing on a national stage after qualifying in regional play with a third-place finish as well as winning several individual awards.
Attending the National Intercollegiate Flying Association’s SAFECON competition Oct. 17-20 in Norman, Oklahoma, the flight team — from Kansas State University’s Polytechnic Campus — battled it out against other colleges in its region for the chance to advance to the national championship. After participating in a variety of events consisting of tests both on the ground and in the air, the Kansas State Polytechnic Flight Team placed third overall, securing its spot at nationals in May 2017.
“During the weeks leading up to regionals, the team spent many hours working on the intricacies of each event, and then during the competition, everyone did an excellent job of executing what they had learned,” said Austin Bally, Wichita, a senior in professional pilot and captain of the flight team. “Along with the third-place team finish, we earned several top 10 placings in the ground events and many top five scores in the flight events. Our success was a collaborative effort and proved that practice pays off.”
The Kansas State Polytechnic Flight Team faced six other universities during the SAFECON regional: Oklahoma State University, which placed first; University of Nebraska, Omaha, which came in second; Southeastern Oklahoma State University; University of Central Missouri; St. Louis University, Parks College; and University of Oklahoma. Members of each team entered ground and flight events, such as landing a plane accurately in a designated area, recognizing different types of aircraft from ambiguous photos and attempting to hit a target while dropping an item from the air. Participants earned points for each event entered, which were then accumulated to score single event winners as well as the top three teams and the overall top pilot.
One of the individual standout moments came from Kansas State Polytechnic senior Chris Messing, Wichita, who, because of his placings in seven events, accrued enough points to win both Top Scoring Contestant and the Top Pilot award out of more than 80 total participants from the seven universities. Messing, who enjoys the family atmosphere, networking and the continued opportunity to develop his aviation knowledge, says earning the principal honors was unexpected, but it has given him validation and confidence.
“Going into the competition, I just wanted to do my best so I could give my teammates the opportunity to experience nationals,” Messing said. “I’m proud to win these awards because they demonstrate that my hard work and preparation for the competition have been worth it. They also give me more confidence to know I can accomplish anything as long as I study, stay focused and do what’s right.”
Along with Messing, the following members of the Kansas State Polytechnic Flight Team competed at regionals; included are individual placings:
Nicholas Terrapin, junior, Alma, first in message drop, fifth in navigation, 22nd in aircraft recognition and 22nd in power-off landing; Mason McMillan, senior, Ozawkie, eighth in power-off landing, 10th in aircraft preflight inspection, 22nd in short field landing and 22nd in simulated comprehensive aircraft navigation; Caleb Strahm, freshman, Sabetha, 25th in computer accuracy; Austin Bally, senior, Wichita, second in power-off landing, fifth in navigation, 11th in computer accuracy, 14th in simulated comprehensive aircraft navigation and 16th in short field landing; and Maddie Perry, sophomore, Wichita, 15th in short field landing and 34th in computer accuracy.
Jacob Mitchell, junior, Foxfield, Colorado, eighth in navigation, ninth in aircraft preflight inspection, 10th in power-off landing and 22nd in computer accuracy; Jason Rohlf, freshman, Tipton, Iowa, second in aircraft recognition; Scott Agee, senior, Independence, Missouri, first in message drop, sixth in ground trainer, 13th in navigation, 24th in short field landing and 26th in simulated comprehensive aircraft navigation; Zachariah Smith, freshman, Hendersonville, North Carolina, 28th in aircraft recognition; Christopher Pennington, senior, El Paso, Texas, first in aircraft recognition; and Matthew Katzke, junior, Waukesha, Wisconsin, eighth in navigation, 21st in simulated comprehensive aircraft navigation and 23rd in computer accuracy.
The flight team has 20 members, with 12 on the travel team after a tryout process. Along with competing annually, flight team members also use their club as way to give back to the community and to connect children with aviation. Throughout the year the team is a part of several events like the All-University Open House and Candy Canes and Airplanes. It also conducts two aviation camps for kids and one for high school students in the summer.
In 2014, the flight team won the Loening Trophy at nationals, which is considered the oldest and most elite of all collegiate aviation awards. It recognized the team as having the most outstanding all-around aviation program in the country.
Story by Julee Cobb / Kansas State University