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blank 11/03/09 01:19PM Averette College, Danville Regional Airport, Flight Schools, Flight Training, SAFECON 2009

Averett University hosts flight competition

Averette College

Students from seven colleges and universities competed in the National Intercollegiate Flying Association’s SAFECON 2009, hosted by Averett University at their flight center at Danville Regional Airport.

A total of 89 students competed in the event, in teams from flight programs from three Virginia schools — Averett University, Hampton University and Liberty University — and four North Carolina schools — Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute, Elizabeth City State University, Guilford Technical Community College and Lenoir Community College.

Travis Williams, Averett’s Chief Flight Instructor, said 27 judges also arrived in Danville for the event.

Williams said students compete in multiple ground and air events over the course of four days.

The ground events include being judged on preflight inspections, and the judges enjoy this part of the event, Williams said. The rules call for a light, single engine airplane to be “bugged” with at least 30 “discrepancies” — things a competent private pilot would be expected to catch and fix during the preflight inspection.

“The judges take things apart in the plane, and the students are judged on finding and fixing what they did,” Williams said.

“It’s fun for the judges — they get to mess with it and say, ‘let’s see if they find this!’”

The aircraft recognition test is another ground event, in which students identify, by make and model, virtually anything that flies, from military aircraft to helicopters.

“They study quite hard for this event,” Williams said.

Drawing up flight plans, judging fuel use, simulator flights and real flight time — including a “bomb” drop to test how accurately the pilots will hit a target area — are all part of the competition.

The students are judged in the air as well, with points lost for a long list of possible pilot errors, including erratic takeoffs, improper flap settings and excessive banking. Students can be disqualified if they perform any overly dangerous moves, like being too close to the edge of the runway during takeoff to landing nose-wheel first.

The most important aspect of the competition is safety, Williams said, and all of the events boil down to how well the pilots-in-training have learned various Federal Aviation Administration safety protocols.

“It’s all about safety,” Williams said. “SAFECON stands for Safety and Flight Evaluation Conference. These students are training to be professional pilots, and they have to know all the safety rules. They have to give a presentation of their school’s policies and procedures, and the judges see if they follow all of them.”

Trophies and ribbons are awarded in several categories, but Williams said the most coveted is the safety award.

“The Safety Award is the one everyone wants,” Williams said. “It’s the most desired trophy at this event. Everyone wants to win it.”

The 27 judges overseeing the competition are mostly professional or retired pilots, and all volunteer to judge the NIFA air meets.

“We really appreciate what they do,” Williams said. “Without them, it would be hard for this to take place.”

The top two teams from this regional competition — Virginia and North Carolina are part of NIFA’s Region X — will go on to the national competition in May.

Students not only have to study hard for the competition, but have to raise the money to compete, since the cost of the competition is not included in their school tuition. Williams said it was a little easier on Averett students this year, since they hosted the competition, but the students still needed to raise money for expenses, such as the $100-an-hour it can cost to fly a plane.

“They do a lot in the community,” Williams said. “For instance, the kids just did valet parking for Rippe’s breast cancer event, and were able to raise a couple of hundred dollars that night.”

The out-of-town teams also have to factor in costs for meals, motel rooms and flying their airplanes to the competition.
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