UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

UND Flying Team wins national championships at 2024 SAFECON

UND has placed first or second more than 30 times in the past 40 years — and this year, the tradition continues

UND Flying Team
From left, Dean Robert Kraus, Hailey Olson, Alexis Wollum, Nathaniel Dietz, Carson Wells, Mikayla Weiss, Cole Yokoyama, Matthew Cleveland, Max Langerud, Andreas Testerman, Caroline Kelley, Max Schimelpfenig, Taylon Haecker, Coach Ryan Guthridge and Coach Lewis Liang. Contributed photo by Sara Kelley.

Continuing its tradition of safety and flying excellence, the UND Flying Team has won top honors at the 2024 National Safety and Flight Evaluation Conference.

Hosted this year by the city of Janesville, Wis., and the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport from May 13-18, UND’s Flying Team won a number of championships, including again winning the Judges Trophy (alongside three other championship titles) for all manner of aircraft operations, either in the air or on the ground.

SAFECON, established by the National Intercollegiate Flying Association, is a comprehensive test of piloting skills, from navigation to powerless landing. Collegiate teams compete regionally, with the top three winners advancing to the national championships.

At SAFECON, UND has placed first or second more than 30 times in the past 40 years. Hundreds of pilots participate in the competition from across the nation.

“The whole team did a great job all year preparing for these events,” said Robert Kraus, dean of the John. D Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences. “Many put in more than 40 hours a week going through ground events, quizzing each other, flying simulators and practicing spot landings and flying precise navigational routes. These results are a testament to their dedication and commitment to aviation and represent all that is UND Aerospace.”

Along with the Judges Trophy (which UND won the previous two years), UND’s Flying Team also brought home the Flight Events Championship, the Ground Events Championship and the SAFECON Championship, which UND won most recently in 2019.

Winning those four national championship titles is something of a rarity, according to Lewis Liang, associate professor of Aviation and faculty advisor and head coach of the Flying Team, as they make up the “quadfecta” of the event.

Liang credited the title sweep to his students’ understanding of, and flying to, the best of their inherent skills.

“All our team members performed to their natural capabilities,” he said. “I told them before we left they don’t have to do anything spectacular, they just have to fly to their potential, and compete to their potential. And they did.”

Ryan Guthridge, associate professor of Aviation who also coaches the Flying Team, agreed, and added that the team put in all the hard work required to perform at the highest level.

“For them to earn this national championship is a tremendous accomplishment and a testament to their commitment to excellence,” said Guthridge. “They represented the University of North Dakota and the city of Grand Forks extremely well.”

Liang stressed that winning the four championships was a team effort, as an individual pilot can’t earn enough points for the sweep: “Everybody puts in a little bit, and that’s how the victory appears,” he said.

Team Co-Captain Matthew Cleveland said he is proud to be part of “this winning family,” and that both teammates and coaches put in a great deal of effort in preparing for SAFECON. That meant people worked to deal with the pressure of competing nationally, and trusting and relying on one another.

“The pressure that comes with competing on the national stage is immense, yet everyone pushed themselves to perform as one cohesive unit,” Cleveland said. “Most important, no one gave up on themselves or on each other, even when an individual event went poorly. No matter what the challenge was, they were unwavering in their efforts and gave everything they had to score points for the team.”

UND student success

Though victory was a group effort, as Kraus, Liang, Guthridge and Cleveland said, several team members performed very well in different events, when competitor pilots numbered nearly 150 per event. Below is sample of how individual UND student pilots fared at SAFECON (the full list of results can be found on the NIFA website):

  • In the Ground Trainer competition, Max Langerud and Grand Forks-native Mikayla Weiss placed first and second, respectively.
  • In the Top Pilot category, Carson Wells, Max Langerud, Mikayla Weiss and Caroline Kelley placed second through fifth, respectively, with Nathaniel Dietz placing ninth.
  • Carson Wells landed on the Outstanding Team Member list.
  • In the CRM/LOFT event, Max Langerud (pilot), and Matthew Cleveland (monitoring pilot) placed first.
  • In the Simulated Comprehensive Aircraft Navigation competition, Mikayla Weiss placed second; Max Langerud, third; Taylon Haecker, sixth; Carson Wells, ninth; and Maxwell Schimelpfenig,14th, out of 154 contestants.

Team Co-Captain Mikayla Weiss said it was an incredible moment when she learned her teammates were named as national champions. She said she watched her team members and coaches pour themselves into preparing for the competition over the past academic year, and that victory would not have been possible without the collective efforts of the team.

“This championship win wouldn’t have been possible without everyone’s dedication, hard work and sacrifice,” she said. “I am very thankful to have had the opportunity to be a part of this incredible team and am very proud of what we accomplished together.”

Members of the UND Flying Team for SAFECON 2024 are Matthew Cleveland, Sycamore, Ill.; Andreas Testerman, Maple Grove, Minn.; Mikayla Weiss, Grand Forks, N.D.; Hailey Olson, Wasilla, Alaska; Carson Wells, Bristol, Ind.; Taylon Haecker, Lincoln, Neb.; Caroline Kelley, Lakeville Minn.; Alexis Wollum, Canby, Minn.; Cole Yokoyama, Kaneohe, Hawaii; Nathaniel Dietz, Chatfield, Minn.; Max Langerud, Worthington, Minn.; and Max Schimelpfenig, Annandale, Minn.