Sky Broncos take fifth place in national collegiate championship

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Photo of WMU airplane.

Sky Broncos earned accolades in this year's competition.

KALAMAZOO—Western Michigan University's precision flight team, the Sky Broncos, took fifth place in this year's National Intercollegiate Flying Association's championship competition, held May 6-11 at Ohio State University.

The 11-member team from WMU's College of Aviation in Battle Creek captured fifth place in the championship's ground events and ninth in flight events to finish fifth overall, with perennial WMU rivals capturing the top four slots. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Prescott took first, while the University of North Dakota came in second, Southern Illinois University took third and Embry-Riddle-Daytona came in fourth. The U.S. Air Force Academy finished a close sixth, just five points behind WMU.

The WMU team has finished the annual event among the top five in the nation for 21 of the past 22 years, last winning the championship in 2002. This year's team advanced to the national championship competition after placing third in NIFA's Region III competition at Kent State University during October. The national event featured 29 teams from around the nation.

The WMU team, says Sky Bronco Head Coach Ryan Seiler, is relatively young and has only a few members with competitive experience at the national level.

"After placing third at this years regional competition behind Ohio State and Kent State, I challenged the students to turn around and beat both of those teams at nationals where the competition and pressure is much higher, and they did just that," Seiler says.

Sky Bronco Joseph Batchelder of Grand Haven, Mich., turned in a standout performance, placing eighth among the event's top-scoring individual contestants. He is a senior studying aviation flight science.

The Sky Broncos were led this year by Seiler, who is program coordinator of WMU's Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative. Assistant coaches include Thomas Grossman, the college's chief flight instructor, and Steve Tkachuk and Jim Whittles, longtime WMU flight instructors and aviation specialists. Lending their competitive experience to the team were three alumni who assisted with coaching duties: Marty Coaker, a 2002 National Championship Team member; Kaitlin Klingler, an April 2013 graduate; and Nate McCune, a 2012 alumnus.

WMU will host the October 2013 Region III competition at its home field at W.K. Kellogg Airport in Battle Creek, Mich. Planning for that event is already underway.

The names of Sky Broncos team members and any individual honors won by them at this month's national SAFECON event are shown below. Individual placements through 20th place garner points that are compiled to determine both team and individual standings. Sky Bronco information includes the team members hometowns and high school, major and placements in 12 scored events.

  • Joseph Batchelder of Grand Haven, Mich., is studying aviation flight science. He graduated from Western Michigan Christian High School in 2009. Batchelder placed second in computer accuracy, third in IFR simulated flight, fourth in preflight inspection, 15th in short-field approach and landing, and was the pilot for the 16th place crew resource management team. He was eighth in scoring overall.
  • Elizabeth Bates of Plymouth, Mass., is majoring in aviation flight science. She graduated from Plymouth South High School in 2012. She placed 11th in simulated comprehensive aircraft navigation and was tied for seventh place in the top-scoring female pilot category.
  •  Alexander Bych of Somers, Conn., is studying aviation flight science. He graduated from Somers High School in 2011. He placed 12th in power-off landings, and he was the pilot for the 12th place message drop team.
  • Louis Gumma of Palatine, Ill., is majoring in aviation science and administration. He graduated from St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights, Ill., in 2012.
  • Andrew M. Koch of Chelsea, Mich., is studying aviation flight science. He graduated from Chelsea High School in 2011. He was named WMU's outstanding team member.
  • Takuya Kutsuzawa of Singapore is studying aviation flight science. He graduated from Toin Gakuen High School in Yokohama, Japan, in 2009.  He was the drop master for the 12th place message drop team.
  • Seth Laws of Lansdale, Penn., is studying aviation flight science. He graduated from North Penn High School in 2012.
  • Ramon Ramirez of Buckley, Mich., is studying aviation science and administration. He graduated from St. Francis High School in Traverse City, Mich., in 2006. He placed sixth in simulated comprehensive aircraft navigation and 13th in computer accuracy.
  • Chris Reichert of Climax, Mich., is studying aviation flight science. He graduated from Climax-Scotts High School in 2010. He was fifth in computer accuracy, ninth in aircraft preflight inspection, 17th in short-field approach and landing, and he was the co-pilot on the 16th place crew resource management team.
  • Megan Voisard of Otsego, Mich., is studying aviation science and administration. She graduated from Otsego High School in 2012.
  • Randall Walliser of San Mateo, Calif., is studying aviation flight science. He graduated from Hillsdale High School in 2011.