Strong showing from 15-student team has UND poised for national championship bid
Over Homecoming Weekend, Oct. 21-23, the University of North Dakota Flying Team took home first place at the Region VI SAFECON Contest, hosted by the National Intercollegiate Flying Association (NIFA) at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
UND’s 15-student team put together a strong showing as it won eight of the 10 events comprising the annual competition.
Among those 15 students, four were among the top ten scoring pilots across the competition, with Co-Captain Jebadiah Sussenbach earning the distinction of top pilot.
At SAFECON competitions, pilots’ skills are tested in comprehensive fashion, from pre-takeoff to landing, including events such as aircraft recognition and pen-and-paper flight navigation. This past weekend marked the return of flight-based events following the COVID-19 pandemic. The previous season’s events were held virtually, which marked a first for the century-old NIFA competition.
Other schools meeting up in Mankato, Minn., for the Region VI “airmeet” were: University of Nebraska, Omaha, Kansas State University Polytechnic, St. Louis University Parks College, University of Central Missouri, University of Dubuque, Hesston College and host Minnesota State University, Mankato.
According to NIFA’s records, UND has won nearly every competition since the regional event’s conception in the early 1970s. On the national stage, UND has maintained an equally impressive standing, having placed first or second in 31 of the past 37 years.
This year’s national competition will be hosted by The Ohio State University in Columbus in May 2022.
Lewis Liang, head coach and assistant professor of aviation, said the UND Flying Team “worked hard and came together when pressed into competition during a difficult time,” following the death of John Hauser, a commercial aviation student at the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.
“I’m extremely proud of all of their accomplishments, both individually and together, as a team,” said Liang of the student roster. “This is a young team, with only three members having competition experience prior to this regional meet.”
“Their exceptional performance is a testament to their ability to rally as a team to achieve excellence,” said Ryan Guthridge, assistant coach and assistant professor of aviation. “We are extremely proud of what they have accomplished, and we look forward to continuing our growth as a team to compete at Nationals in May.”
Members of the 2021-22 UND Flying Team are Matthew Cleveland (Sycamore, Ill.), Ryan Fitzgerald (Albuquerque, N.M.), Jie Gao (Guangzhou, China), Bailey Harris (Bemidji, Minn.), Danny Hong (Oronoco, Minn.), Caroline Kelley (Lakeville, Minn.), Max Langerud (Worthington, Minn.), Cobi Pimental (Kailua, Hawaii), Aaron Schwartz (Buffalo Grove, Minn.), Jaspinder Singh (Vestal, N.Y.), Jebadiah Sussenbach (Edina, Minn.), Joe Taylor (New Prague, Minn.), Alex Viedma (Edina, Minn.), Mikayla Weiss (Grand Forks, N.D.) and Carson Wells (Bristol, Ind.).