SIU Aviation aircraft

May 28, 2021

Flying Salukis’ ground work leads to another top 3 national finish

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Even when grounded, the Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Flying Salukis find ways to reach new heights.

After the May 2020 National Intercollegiate Flying Association (NIFA) competition was canceled and the 2021 version whittled to a virtual format with ground events only due to the COVID-19 pandemic, SIU again showed its national prominence this past weekend by finishing third in the nation. The result marks the 10th straight year that the nine-time national champions have finished third or higher in the nation.

“I am so immensely proud of this group for their accomplishment during these times,” said Flying Salukis Coach Nathan J. Lincoln, a senior lecturer in aviation management and flight. “I truly believe the continued success of our flight team is because of the amazing flight students and instructors. We have a wonderful program here at SIU, and it’s a great feeling to showcase it at our national competitions.”

Embry Riddle Aeronautical University-Prescott won the title. The University of North Dakota was second.

Results are available at the NIFA website. 

Preparation was more difficult this year 

After the May 2020 national event was canceled, SIU qualified this spring via a participation regional in March. Yet there were challenges getting back into a practice and competition routine, Lincoln said. Knocking off the “rust” of returning members who had not competed since fall 2019, the addition of several new team members, and knowing it was a virtual competition with just ground events made preparing more difficult than normal, he said.

“Even with these obstacles the team performed wonderfully,” Lincoln said. “I was so proud of each one of them for their continued success in our national competitions. It is quite an amazing feat to be able to stay in the top three nationally for 10 years now.”

Flying Salukis place three in top nine

Three seniors who earned their degrees this month or who will complete their education this summer led the effort. Gavin Voris, an aviation management graduate from Park Ridge, was fifth overall with 34 points. Team captain Andrew D. Finer, aviation technology, from Des Peres, Missouri, was sixth with 33 points and Lukas A. Miller, aviation management graduate, from Macon, Illinois, tied for ninth with 27 points.

“Getting that opportunity to compete before I left really meant a lot,” said Finer, who will graduate this summer. “It was weird doing everything online, but at the end of the day, I'm very happy we got to do it at all.”

Only competing in ground events was a “bummer,” Finer said.

“We're the SIU Flight Team after all and not being able to fly felt wrong,” he said. “The ground events are still important of course, but it was definitely an obstacle for us being that we are a team that typically succeeds more in the flying events than the ground events.”

In spite of the “massive asterisk” Finer said the team’s ability to group together and finish again in the top three in the nation is “something that makes me incredibly proud.”

Voris is working on his flight instructor certificate and said the hardest parts of the season were the last-minute changes surrounding the competition due to the modified format.

“The team did a great job of being flexible in order to overcome this,” he said.

Even without the flight events, Voris said it “meant a lot competing this year since there were no Nationals last year.”

“I didn’t have too much trouble focusing on the ground events because it allowed me to make sure I was really doing my best,” he said.

For Miller, who also graduated in May, the competition was another opportunity to represent the school, which “was really something special.” He explained that ground events have always been one his favorite parts of flight team competition.

Changes to the aircraft preflight inspection event to make it a virtual rather than a hands-on event did present challenges, which meant competitors had to “create a way to study for something that had never been done before,” Miller said.

“It really was a group effort for trying to find any angle the judges could be looking at with the aircraft and to make sure everyone was on the same page,” he said. “I really am overcome with pride for the team that I got to work with this year for their perseverance and dedication to the team and constantly improving themselves.”

Other Flying Salukis who scored points were:

  • Wendy M. Elliott, junior, aviation management, from Lafayette, Colorado, 18 points.
  • Benjamin D. Morris, senior, aviation technologies, from Carbondale, Illinois, 5 points.
  • Maxwell Hamilton, senior, aviation management, from Geneva, Illinois, 3 points.
  • Angelina R. Kapp, senior, aviation technologies, from Western Springs, Illinois, 2 points.

Other Flying Salukis, with hometowns, year in school and majors are:


  • Barrington: Sydney N. Reijmer, senior, aviation management.
  • Byron: Dayne J. Snodgrass, sophomore, aviation flight.
  • Canton: Joshua P. Weyers, senior, aviation management.
  • Chicago: Matthew M. Santos, senior, aviation management.
  • Johnston City: Amelia M. Anderson, junior, aviation management.
  • Morton: Noah V. Ciocca, sophomore, aviation flight.
  • Rockford: Colby M. Collins, senior, aviation technologies.


  • Cincinnati: Matteus H. Thompson, junior, aviation technologies.


  • Forest Lake: Michael Ochsenbauer, senior, aviation technologies.

Looking to the fall

Plans now are for the Flying Salukis to hold tryouts early in the fall semester and then prepare for the in-person Region VIII competition at Indiana State University in October, Lincoln said. Morris and Kapp will be co-captains for the 2021-2022 season. Lincoln also credited the aviation department’s continued support and the work of his coaching staff, Mike Lefevre, Rob Kay and Andy Roadcap.

“Without them we would never have the success that we have had in recent years,” he said. “They each bring valuable assets to the team and are a perfect group of coaches to work with.”