UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

UND Aerospace basks in big-time media spotlight

In a week’s span, CNN, Weather Channel, The New York Times and The Washington Post come calling

CNN videographer Jon O’Bierne and CNN reporter Omar Jimenez get ready to interview UND Aviation Instructor Colt Iseminger (right) inside the school’s Air Traffic RADAR Simulation Lab in Ryan Hall. The CNN crew was at UND last Tuesday (March 14) to learn more about how UND instructs the next generation of air traffic controllers to keep airport runways and our airways safe. Photo by Elizabeth Bjerke.

UND Aerospace has been enjoying a whole lot of publicity that money can’t buy.

In the world of media marketing, there’s the stuff you own, such as UND Today; the stuff you buy, usually in the form of advertising; and the stuff that’s earned, when the press comes running to you unsolicited. Last week, UND Aerospace earned its keep and then some.

Last week, UND Aerospace’s media engagement list included CNN, Weather Channel, The New York Times and The Washington Post.

The fun started, in earnest, last Tuesday, when a CNN production crew, comprising reporter Omar Jimenez, producer Bonney Kapp and videographer Jon O’Bierne, made their way to Grand Forks from New York City and Washington. They were here to visit the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences and its Department of Aviation’s Air Traffic 360-degree Tower and Integrated RADAR Simulation Lab, as well as other training resources. CNN also hoped to speak with experts in air-traffic education to learn how the nation’s top flight schools teach students to keep airport runways free of aircraft incursions and other mishaps. Aircraft incursions have been much in the news the last several months, with several high-profile accidents and near misses.

The UND team didn’t disappoint their CNN visitors, who were collecting interviews and video footage for an hourlong special that aired in primetime last Thursday (March 16). The UND portion of the special, hosted by CNN correspondent Kate Bolduon and titled “Flight Risk — Turbulent Times For Air Travel,” was all of three minutes in duration, but the prestige of UND experts in the national spotlight has been longer-lasting.

CNN’s Jimenez wasted no time establishing UND’s significance to the aviation industry and air traffic education.

“We went all the way to the University of North Dakota, one of the best schools in the country for this,” Jimenez told Bolduan to kick off the segment. “(UND) brought us into their air traffic control simulator – not just to show us how they train students, but also to give us insight on what these air traffic controllers might have been seeing during some of the more significant recent incursions at U.S. airports.”

Jimenez tweeted about his experiences at UND three separate times, garnering nearly 66,000 combined views, in addition to the millions-strong cable and streaming audience of the primetime program.

The CNN crew spent nearly five hours on Tuesday afternoon (March 14), with UND Aviation Instructor Colt Iseminger in UND’s Air Traffic 360-degree Tower and Integrated RADAR Simulation Lab in Clifford Hall. Iseminger was joined by a team of air traffic associates (full-time UND employees and recent graduates of the UND Air Traffic Control Program who are waiting to be hired by the Federal Aviation Administration).

The associates included Nicholas Ackerman, Jackson Smith, Jie Gao and Jouayee Schiung. UND Aerospace Dean Bob Kraus, Associate Dean Elizabeth Bjerke and current air traffic student Tanner Leyn also stopped by to assist.

“The experience was exciting to be able to show the flying public a side of aviation that most people never hear about when flying — air traffic control,” Iseminger said.

Even UND President Andrew Armacost got involved, although unexpectedly. The president met the CNN crew when they all took the same outbound flight, as the crew headed back to New York City to begin production work on their UND interviews and video footage.

“They raved about UND and how they were treated,” Armacost said. “I encouraged them to come back for their next story during the beautiful summer months.”

UND Aviation Instructor Colt Iseminger (right) runs CNN reporter Omar Jimenez through a variety of simulated air traffic control environments and situations in the Air Traffic 360-degree Tower and Integrated RADAR Simulation Lab in Clifford Hall, while CNN videographer Jon O’Bierne looks on. Photo by Elizabeth Bjerke.

Stressful simulations

Iseminger and the CNN crew concluded their interviews inside UND’s Air Traffic RADAR Simulation Lab, a dedicated air traffic terminal/enroute RADAR simulator with 32 individual positions, in Ryan Hall. Throughout the day, Iseminger and team ran the CNN crew through a variety of simulated air traffic environments and situations. Some of the focus was on recent real-world runway mishaps that made news for all the wrong reasons, including near misses at major airports near Washington and Austin, Texas.

While CNN’s Jimenez was at the controls, Iseminger used the 360-degree tower simulator to mimic dense fog conditions, leaving Jimenez virtually blind to the runway environment around him.

“Oof — now I’m stressed,” Jimenez admitted.

Iseminger said incidents such as the near misses over last few months may be increasing, but they are nothing new for aviators and the experts that are trained to keep our runways and airways safe.

“The capabilities of our air traffic simulation labs — to simulate the recent incidents — are training the next generation of controllers to recognize and react to them safely in a simulated environment,” Iseminger said. “Our program also trains air traffic students to remain vigilant and maintain their proficiency throughout their careers.”

A weather balloon is launched during a blizzard by atmospheric scientist Aaron Kennedy and some of his students at the University of North Dakota. UND archival image.

Media blitz

Other media engagements involving UND Aerospace experts over the past week included a New York Times interview with UND Aviation Professor Jim Higgins, a former airline pilot, about the impacts to airlines after Russia closed off its airspace to overflights. The Washington Post also reached out to the UND Aviation Department to find an expert who could lend insight to this simple yet hair-raising question: “Could a civilian, with no flight experience, land a jetliner?”

And it’s not just the Aviation Department leading the media blitz. On Wednesday (March 22) at 12:40 p.m., UND atmospheric scientist Aaron Kennedy will be interviewed live on the Weather Channel about his research on ground blizzards in the Red River Valley region of North Dakota and Minnesota — perhaps one of the best areas on earth for studying this meteorological phenomenon. The Skycams Kennedy operates for UND’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences to show a live view of weather conditions are frequently featured on the Weather Channel.

It’s not unusual for Kennedy — who has built specialized cameras to photograph snowflakes — and his students to launch weather balloons from the UND campus on days when the University is closed because of blizzard conditions.

Kennedy’s goal is to make the weather models used to forecast blizzards more accurate, especially the sudden ground blizzards caused by blowing snow that lead to deadly highway accidents. He recently received a $400,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to further his research on the blowing snow that leads to ground blizzards.