UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

Aerospace teams continue their winning ways

UND’s Aerobatic Team wins nationals and Flying Team wins regionals, the latest championships in a decades-long tradition

The UND Aerobatic Team recently won its 11th national championship, having earned the top total collegiate-team score from International Aerobatic Club competitions during the 2023 aerobatic season. Photo courtesy of UND Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.

In what has become a storied tradition in college aviation, UND pilots and crew members continue to perform at the highest levels, with the UND Aerobatic Team being crowned national champions and the UND Flying Team winning the regional title.

The teams’ exceptional accomplishments and dedication are a source of great pride for both UND as a whole and the University’s John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.

UND Aerobatic Team

The University of North Dakota Aerobatic Team has won its 11th national flying championship.

The Odegard School received the news after International Aerobatic Club Collegiate officials tallied competition results from around the country during the 2023 aerobatic season.

On top of an excellent team finish, UND also fielded the competition’s top two individual scorers. Andrew Coughlin and Shawn Higgins Jr. took first and second overall, respectively.

“Our 2023 team started strong and kept the momentum throughout the season and into Nationals in September,” said Mike Lents, head team coach and assistant professor of aviation, who has been with the team since 2008. “They supported each other through the contest season, relying on their personal experiences to train to a higher standard. I’m proud of how each represented UND, growing as professionals, individuals, and a team.

“This year’s team included Andrew Coughlin, Shawn Higgins, Ryan Peene, Devin Graves, Tyler Sperry, Spencer Patterson, and Mikaila Gillis,” Lents continued. “They worked hard and earned it against tough competition from the US Air Force Academy and the Metropolitan State University of Denver.”

Throughout the summer and early fall, the UND Aerobatic Team competes across the Midwest in IAC contests. Open to any aerobatic pilot, UND students routinely compete against professional airline, corporate, airshow and military pilots as well as engineers, computer scientists, business professionals and many others who train for competition.

Sequences and maneuvers are flown to match specific grading criteria, and scores are awarded for accuracy, energy management, consistency and presentation. Judges apply deductions for small degrees of error in heading and attitude during maneuvers such as spins, loops, rolls, and hammerheads.

Top marks at these contests and throughout the season are hard won, said Lents.

The UND Flying Team won the Region 6 Safety and Flight Evaluation Conference championship in October. The team also earned first place in every event in which they competed, with nine different team members being named regional champions. Photo courtesy of UND’s Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.

UND Flying Team

Nine events, nine wins, nine different team members being named regional champions: That was the UND Flying Team’s performance at the National Intercollegiate Flying Association Region 6 meet.

The team won the Region 6 Safety and Flight Evaluation Conference championship in October, scoring a total of 852 points (second place had 491).

The UND team also earned first place in every event in which they competed, with nine different team members being named regional champions. Additionally, the top scoring contestant is a UND student, Mikayla Weiss of Grand Forks, N.D.

The UND team now has qualified for the NIFA National SAFECON Competition, which will be held in Janesville, Wis., in May. The 12-member team is working hard to prepare for that completion, at which UND has placed first or second at least 32 times in the past 38 years.

SAFECON represents a comprehensive test for pilots’ skills. From pen-and-paper navigation to powerless landing accuracy, the contest’s events bring all flight skills to bear.

The national competition draws hundreds of collegiate pilots from across the country.

The Region 6 Championship was held in St. Louis and drew a total of eight teams. UND’s top marks came in the following events: Preflight Inspection, Aircraft Recognition, Computer Accuracy, Ground Trainer, Message Drop, Power-Off Landings, Short Field Landings, Simulated Comprehensive Aircraft Navigation or SCAN event and Unlimited Navigation.

In addition to Mikayla Weiss, who was the top-scoring contestant out of 99 competitors, five other UND contestants scored in the Top 10.

“The dedication, professionalism, knowledge and skills that our Flying Team members showcase in these competitions are a great representation of our School and University, and will serve them well as they move into careers as aerospace and aviation professionals,” said Robert Kraus, dean of the Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences at UND.