October 13, 2015

Flying Salukis win fifth straight regional title

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Another dominating performance, including top finishes in seven of nine events, paved the way for the Southern Illinois University Flying Salukis to win the National Intercollegiate Flying Association Region VIII title Saturday, Oct. 10. 

Junior George H. Nimmer earned top pilot and top scoring contestant honors, and five other Flying Salukis finished among the top eight overall scorers as SIU earned an eighth regional title in nine years. 

The two-time defending national collegiate aviation champions accumulated just under 50 percent of the total points available to take the regional title. The win enables the Flying Salukis, who finished with 326 points, to qualify for nationals for the 46th time in 47 years.  Host Lewis University was second with 176 points, followed by Parkland College, 86 points, Purdue University, 42 points, Quincy University, 19 points and Indiana State University, 12 points. 

The nine-time national champions have won three national titles in the last five years and finished no lower than fifth in the nation in nine appearances dating back to 2005. The team advances to the NIFA national competition, May 9-14, at The Ohio State University. 

This marks the team’s fifth straight regional title, which proves the program’s overall strength, James Libuszowski, Flying Salukis head coach, said. He noted the team continues to perform well even after turnover due to graduation. There are eight new team members this year. 

“After last year's national championship, we lost quite a few senior members and our performance at this regional competition shows the nation that we are still competitive and that we shouldn't be counted out,” he said. 

The Flying Salukis won both ground and flight event categories, including placing the top three in navigation and top two in aircraft preflight inspection. Ground events are computer accuracy, aircraft preflight inspection, simulator ground trainer, aircraft recognition and SCAN, or simulated comprehensive aircraft navigation. Flight events are short field approach and landing, power-off precision landing, navigation, and message drop. 

Results are available here

Libuszowski noted the Flying Salukis regularly accumulate a majority of points with flight events, but there has been steady improvement in ground event scoring the last two years. 

“Winning the ground events title at last year's nationals really helped motivate the team to work on their ground events. They realized that becoming a well-rounded team can help bring home titles consistently,” he said. 

Nimmer, an aviation management and flight major from Plymouth, Wis., scored 75 points over seven events. Other Flying Salukis in the top 12, including ties – with finish, major and hometown were: second, Sean S. Gipe, senior, aviation technologies, Media, Pa.; fourth, Davin L. Miles, junior, aviation flight, Penfield; fifth, Theodore M. Keenan, sophomore, aviation management and flight, Evanston; seventh, Brad C. Smith, sophomore, aviation management and flight, Dove Canyon, Calif.; eighth, Kevin D. Grandberry, Jr., junior, aviation management and flight, Chicago; and among a three-way tie 12th,  Dalton P. Thompson, sophomore, aviation management and flight, Geneva, and Greyson H. Harlow, sophomore, aviation management and flight, Monmouth. 

Nimmer won SCAN for a second straight year and teamed with pilot Jon R. Dowell, senior, aviation management, Lake in the Hills, to win in message drop.  Co-captains Miles and Gipe teamed to win navigation. Miles also won aircraft preflight inspection. Miles scored in seven events and Gipe scored in six. 

Grandberry won aircraft recognition for a fourth year, and Keenan and Harlow won power-off precision landing and computer accuracy, respectively. 

In all, 10 of 18 team members scored points. Trent D. Medernach, a freshman in aviation flight from Batavia, scored a point in aircraft recognition. 

Other team members with major and hometown are: Austin J. Alzapiedi, senior, aviation flight, Sterling, Mass.; Jonathan H. Ezell, freshman, aviation flight and aviation technology, LaGrange Park; Robert A. Kay, freshman, aviation flight, Plainfield; Zachary A. Rawlings, freshman, aviation flight, Columbia; Connor E. Schlottman, junior, aviation flight, McDonough, Ga.; Craig A. Schwandner, junior, aviation flight, Wentzeville, Mo.; Kindra A. Wendling, sophomore, aviation management and flight, Altamont; Brody P. Wilson, freshman, aviation flight, Elmhurst. 

“We had several new competitors on the team this year but they were able to elevate this team and constantly push them to perform to their best,” Libuszowski said. “Some of the members that didn't compete at this event were still incredibly valuable because they have incredible talent and made our returning members work hard to earn the competition spot. Having two straight regional competitions where we top 300 points shows the strength and talent of this team.” 

The Flying Saluki assistant coaches are assistant instructors David A. Blood, Jacob R. Schwarz, Kevin Miller and senior lecturer Kim Carter.  The team will lose Dowell to graduation in December, Libuszowski said. 

More information on the university’s aviation program is available at aviation.siu.edu.