March 07, 2011

Aerobatic club keeps winning championships

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Southern Illinois University Carbondale's aerobatic team swept the competition out of the sky, winning – again – the International Aerobatic Club's Collegiate Team Award.

In addition, Andrew Bochnovic, a senior in aviation technologies, won the 2007 IAC Individual Collegiate Trophy as the top scoring aerobatic pilot.

The International Aerobatic Club is an organization devoted to aerobatic flying. Founded in 1970, it is a division of the National Aeronautics Association and adheres to rules established by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, the world governing body for air sports.

In 2001, the IAC introduced a collegiate competition category. SIUC's team, under the aegis of the aviation technologies department, launched that same year and won the first collegiate competition. Since then, the team has six victories to its credit in the seven years of IAC collegiate competition. The only year the team didn't win – 2003 – it placed second.

This year, SIUC's overall percentage score was 85.68 to win. Second place University of North Dakota had 82.56 percent.

Bochnovic finished with a three-contest percentage of 86.87 percent, beating out Jacob Allen from the United States Air Force Academy (79.744 percent) and Greg Gilmer from North Dakota (79.743 percent). The IAC calculates winning scores from the competitor's top three IAC-sanctioned event flights over the competition season.

Winning may be a habit, but it's not one SIUC takes for granted – particularly because the group is privately funded.

"We consider our success against other teams to be quite significant – especially since the other teams are funded by their universities and we have been privately funded since the inception of the competition in 2001," Charles Rodriguez, assistant professor of aviation technologies and the aerobatic team adviser, said, noting that he himself spends about $5,000 annually on fuel alone.

He noted, too, that the aerobatic team is part of aviation technologies – not aviation flight. "We do our flying on the side, but we are very serious about our flying," he said.

Rodriguez explained that aerobatic flying is not "common, wings-level flying." Participation in the rolls, spins, dives and other maneuvers in aerobatic flying, he said, makes for pilots who know how to handle an airplane.

"I would wager they can quickly and efficiently get out of any unusual flight attitude," he said.

Rodriguez stressed the mental preparation such flight entails. He said aerobatic pilots need to think ahead about their maneuvers, what to do if the maneuver doesn't go as planned for any of a variety of reasons, how to proceed from one maneuver to another safely, and overall, how the mechanics of the plane and physics work together to enable them to do what they do. In order to win, he said, the pilots must commit to perfection, studying video of their own maneuvers with a critical eye to find every flaw, no matter how small.

"We aren't daredevils, nor are we foolish," Rodriguez said. "There is a great deal of safety in our flying. It sounds very dangerous, but it really is safe."

Here is a list of the aerobatic pilots on the team, beginning with this year's individual collegiate winner, Andrew Bochnovic.

Andrew Bochnovic – Bochnovic is from Glen Ellyn. In addition to winning at the collegiate level, Bochnovic was second in the Paul Soucy Award, finishing with 86.71 percent against two-time winner Joe Haycraft of Naples, Fla., who had the winning percentage of 89.87. The Soucy Award is for professionals – Bochnovic was flying against the pros to win second place in that national competition. Bochnovic also rates sixth in the nation at the IAC Sportsmen level, again, a level intended for professional flyers.

"He is an excellent mechanic and is capable of surmounting any aviation challenge placed before him," Rodriguez said about Bochnovic. "He never misses an opportunity to fly, even flying parachute jumpers to their jump sites. He has amassed a number of flight ratings that will help him secure a flying position upon graduation."

Jeremy Brown, Beaver Falls, Pa. – The United States Air Force flight school recently accepted him into its program.

Christina Mayberry, Carbondale – Mayberry may be the first black American female pilot to compete in collegiate aerobatics.

Eric Platt, Chester – Platt already holds aviation management and flight degrees, but took up the study of aviation technologies to learn more.

Akira Tommii, Cheba, Japan – Cheba is the only international student on the current team.

Kenneth and Lori Robinson of Carbondale have been primary sponsors for the team since the 2002 season, and funded the Southern Illinois Wings of Charity Flight Academy. Rodriguez said the couple has contributed thousands of dollars to keep the team flying.

"In general, students involved with the aerobatic program have been extremely successful while attending SIUC and in their careers," Rodriguez said. "I am profoundly proud of them."

Media wishing to pursue in-depth stories about the team or the individual members can contact Charles Rodriguez at 618/536-3371 or at