WMU News

Sky Broncos head to Kansas for national competition

April 16, 2005

BATTLE CREEK, Mich.--Western Michigan University's precision flight team, the Sky Broncos, heads for Kansas Wednesday, April 20, to prepare for the National Intercollegiate Flying Association's April 26-30 championship competition.

The 15-member Sky Bronco team will be looking for favorable weather conditions Wednesday to leave its home field at Battle Creek's W.K. Kellogg Airport and fly a small fleet of WMU planes to Salina, Kan., for the competition, which attracts the top collegiate aviators from around the nation.

The Sky Broncos team from WMU's College of Aviation earned its berth in the national championship competition by winning NIFA's Region III competition last October at Kent State University. The Sky Broncos last won the national championship in 2002 and have placed in the top three in national competition for 13 consecutive years.

This year's event, known as SAFECON 2005, begins Tuesday, April 26, and concludes Saturday, April 30, with an evening awards banquet. About 400 aviators from 30 competing NIFA member schools have qualified for the championship event. Results of the competition will not be known until late in the evening of April 30.

NIFA national competitions pit schools against each other in seven ground events and four flying events. Team points are earned by competitors who place in the top 10 in each of the events. A team first- or second-place finish at a regional competition means the team qualifies for a spot in the national competition.

Head coach James Whittles is a flight instructor for WMU's College of Aviation and is in his first year as head coach of the Sky Broncos. He says his team is a young one, with only six returning members from last year's team, but he says the Sky Broncos will do well in the events where the team has traditionally been strong, like preflight inspection and aircraft recognition. The team is also emerging, he says, as a force to beat in flight simulation.

"This is a very young team, but boy, they've been working so hard," Whittles says. "Poor weather this spring has cut into our flying time, but we'll have six days in Kansas before the competition to practice and get acclimated to the terrain and conditions."

Joining Whittles on the coaching team are Thomas Grossman, the college's chief flight instructor, and Steve Tkachuk, also a flight instructor. Marc Kobaissi, a veteran and standout member of several earlier Sky Bronco teams, serves as assistant coach.

The 2004-05 Sky Broncos are led by co-captains Ian Alexander, an aviation flight science major from Grandville, Mich., and Robbie Beechuk, a senior finance major from Plymouth, Mich.

For detailed information on SAFECON 2005, visit the event Web site at <www.sal.ksu.edu/safecon/index.html>

Below is a list of members of the 2004-05 Sky Broncos team as well as the names of their hometowns.

Ian Alexander, a graduating senior from Grandville, Mich.

Topa Augustine, a sophomore from Santa Fe, N.M.

Robbie Beechuk, a senior from Plymouth, Mich.

Travis Epp, a senior from Clarklake, Mich.

Amanda Evans, a sophomore from Traverse City, Mich.

Garrett Heinz, a junior from Birmingham, Mich.

Patrick M. Jacobs, a sophomore from Farmington Hills, Mich.

Jennifer K. Jakubiec, a junior from Commerce Township, Mich.

Jelani Kelley, a senior from Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

Blake A. Koehn, a junior from Gwin, Mich.

Benjamin Lauer, a sophomore from Alpena, Mich.

Morad Leeal, a sophomore from Farmington Hills, Mich.

Joshua Niedzwiecki, a graduating senior from Waterford, Mich.

Chris R. Reif, a junior from Lansing, Ill.

Tyler J. Rice, a freshman from Indialantic, Fla.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 269 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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