We are excited to share the news that the OU Flying Sooners flight team has qualified to compete for a national championship for the first time in more than three decades after a stellar showing at the National Intercollegiate Flying Association Region IV SAFECON Oct. 5-9 at Max Westheimer Airport.
SAFECON is NIFA’s premier collegiate flight competition, bringing together collegiate pilots to compete for awards in a variety of aviation skills. Teams compete in five ground events and four flying events, including flight planning, navigation, landing and aircraft recognition, in a series of written exams, as well as simulated and real-world flying skills tests.
This was OU’s first year competing in NIFA’s newly realigned Region IV, which includes 14 schools from Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and Oklahoma.
Ross Ellis, assistant chief flight instructor for the OU Extended Campus School of Aviation Studies and faculty adviser for the OU Flying Sooners, said co-captains Scott Wardrop and Bradley Burgess put a tremendous amount of work into building this year’s team, from leading the search for competitors during team tryouts to organizing practice sessions for both the flying and written events.
“These guys worked their tails off,” he said. “This is a huge accomplishment, as we get to represent the University of Oklahoma on the national stage!”
“Everybody chose to come to OU because it’s an amazing flying university. We’re not just some of the best pilots here at OU, but in the nation.”
OU’s third-place overall finish earned the 15-member team a trip to nationals on the strength of seven Top 5 finishes and 19 Top 10 finishes across nine events during the three-day competition. The team placed second overall in combined ground event scoring and fifth overall in the flight events. The Flying Sooners team and the student host committee, the three-member squad tasked with arranging after-competition activities, meals and more for the 100+ competitors at the event, were also awarded the Red Barron Sportsmanship Award for outstanding sportsmanship and hospitality.
Professional Pilot senior and Flying Sooners co-captain Scott Wardrop was named Top Pilot at the event, the top individual honor awarded for all-around excellence throughout the competition. He also earned a second-place finish with teammate Bradley Burgess in Traditional Navigation, a third-place finish in Preflight Inspection and a fourth-place finish in Power-Off Landing.
“Everybody chose to come to OU because it’s an amazing flying university,” Wardrop said. “We’re not just some of the best pilots here at OU, but in the nation.”
Professional Pilot senior Billy Kreikmeier won the Preflight Inspection competition, an event where OU took three of the top five spots.
Competitors had a chance to unwind each evening at a series of team bonding and networking events organized by the committee, including a social event at Heyday Family Fun Center and a private screening of the movie Sully.
“Letting the teams have time to relax after the events and compete in different ways, like at Heyday, and get to know people from other teams outside of the competition is important,” said Sara Hoffman, chair of the student host committee.
For Ellis, the after-hours events were just as important as the competition itself.
“It’s a neat opportunity to see the kids from all the different states come together in a good, friendly competition,” he said. “Everyone has an interest in aviation, and our students get to meet a lot of people. Aviation being such a small industry, they will see these people again throughout their careers.”
The Flying Sooners will next compete as part of a 30-team field in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, in May 2020 at NIFA’s 100th Anniversary SAFECON, alongside fellow Region IV representatives Oklahoma State University and LeTourneau University–Longview (Texas).
For more information about the National Intercollegiate Flying Association, visit nifa.aero. To learn more about the flying and non-flying degree programs offered by the OU Extended Campus School of Aviation Studies, visit pacs.ou.edu/aviation.
Region IV SAFECON Awards
3rd place Overall
2nd place Ground Events
5th place Flight Events
Red Barron Sportsmanship Award
Overall Top Pilot - Scott Wardrop
1st place Preflight - Billy Kreikmeier
3rd place Preflight - Scott Wardrop
4th place Preflight - Eldon Hesselius
4th place Power-Off Landing - Scott Wardrop
3rd place Simulated Comprehensive Aircraft Navigation - Reid Lohmann
2nd place Traditional Navigation - Scott Wardrop and Bradley Burgess
4th place Traditional Navigation - Billy Kreikmeier and Ryan O’Leary
The 2019-20 OU Flying Sooners
Scott Wardrop (co-captain), Bradley Burgess (co-captain), Brandon Albert, Brayden Butcher, Eldon Hesselius, Brandon Kincade, Billy Kreikmeier, Reid Lohmann, Ryan O’Leary, Brendan O’Toole, Field Parsons, Austin Scheets, Sean Connor Shanks, Andrew Wertheimer and Nick Zahn
Student Host Committee
Sara Hoffman (chair), Norman Erkin and Elizabeth Phillips