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Sky Broncos head to Ohio for national championship

by Cheryl Roland

May 12, 2011 | WMU News

Photo of WMU Cessna CE-150.
Cessna CE-150
KALAMAZOO--Western Michigan University's precision flight team, the Sky Broncos, will take off from its Battle Creek, Mich., home field May 13 to head for Ohio State University to compete in the May 16-21 National Intercollegiate Flying Association's championship competition.

A team of 11 Sky Broncos will be among some 300 students from 30 colleges and universities around the nation vying for top honors at the 2011 NIFA Safety and Flight Evaluation Conference--known as SAFECON. The event will be held at the Ohio State University Airport in Columbus, Ohio.

The WMU team is a perennial favorite in national competition. The Sky Broncos have placed among the top three in 16 of the past 19 years. They won the national championship twice during that time--in 1998 and 2002. Teams qualify for the national event by winning or placing second in one of the 11 NIFA regional competitions held each academic year.

Steve Tkachuk, aviation specialist on the flight staff of WMU's College of Aviation, is sharing head coach responsibilities with Ryan Seiler, also an aviation specialist with the college. The pair will travel with the team to Columbus.

Photo of U.S. Air Force Capt. Jeffery Haney.
Capt. Jeffery Haney
Tkachuk say the team is dedicating its work at nationals this year to a former Sky Bronco, U.S. Air Force Capt. Jeffery Haney, who was killed in November when his F-22 Raptor went down in the Alaskan mountains during a training mission. Haney was a former team captain of the Sky Broncos and helped lead them to a national championship in 2002. Haney's name has been painted on the side of the Cessna 150 that he flew in the 2002 competition, and it will be flown by several current team members during this year's competition in Columbus.

"We've got a relatively small team this year for nationals--only 11--but we believe we have some strength to our numbers," Tkachuk says. "Our team now has several certified flight instructors among the group, which certainly helps with our depth. We're really looking forward to competition at nationals after a long practice season."

At the NIFA event, teams accrue points to determine final standings by having individual team members place in the top slots in the competition's 11 judged flight and ground events. Both individual placements and team standings are kept under wraps until the championship's concluding banquet the evening of Saturday, May 21.

2010-11 Sky Broncos Team