National Flight Competition Experience (Pictures Included)

(Estimate read time 6-7 minutes)

Bonus Pictures at the End!
I thought I would share a little bit of myself and the things that I experienced as I was a student in college working on obtaining my degree in aviation. Bare with me, as this is a long post. So if you have the time, take the time to read through and glance at the pictures at the end. It’s worth it. If you are truly aspiring to become a pilot, which I know is quite a few of you out there, you may find what I have to say, something to look forward if you decide to go to a school that participates in this competition. I can give out the list of those schools if you’d like in a PM if you so desire. 😁

There are many excellent and accredited universities/colleges throughout the United States, and all of them produce sharp pilots that fly our airliners today. One of the beneficial features that most of these schools all have in common is a national competition that is held annually. Over the last few years it has been held in Columbus, Ohio. (Where are my Ohioans at?) 😂The event is held at Ohio State University Airport, KOSU and some of you who live in the area are well aware of over 80 aircraft in the area over Mothers Day.

Before the schools head to the national stage, there are regional qualifiers. The top three schools from each region move to the national competition. There are 10 regions, with each containing between 5 and 8 schools in each region. Again, the schools that are place in the top 3 advance to the nationals in Ohio.

What does the competition consist of?
There are many things that go into these competitions that are organized by the National Intercollegiate Flying Association (NIFA). They are split into two main categories: Ground Events & Air Events:

[details=Ground Events]
Aircraft Recognition– Given a 3 second glimpse of an aircraft on a screen, with a 15 second time to write the make, model, and name of the aircraft. ex. Cessna, 172, Skyhawk This is not your general aircraft spotting test at your local airport. These are aircraft that are generally no longer flying for from years that may seem prehistoric to you.

Computer Accuracy– You are given an aeronautical sectional chart, aircraft performance and other data needed to plan a flight within a given time. Measured on accuracy, down to the nearest minute, nearest tenth of a gallon of fuel, and nearest tenth of a mile.

Crew Resource Management (CRM)/Line Oriented Flight Training (LOFT)– Testing the ability of two teammates from the same school to work together to mitigate a situation that is affecting their flight. This is done in a training simulator.

Ground Trainer– The contestant is graded by a computer as he flies an approach and other air work under IFR conditions. He is measured on preset altitudes, speeds and times to reach waypoints based on what is set in the computer. Pilot with the lowest score… wins![/details]

[details= Air Events:]
Navigation– Two pilots are involved: One pilot has 30minutes to plan a flight based on latitude and longitude for 4 or 5 waypoints that are recognizable from the air at a given altitude. The same pilot has to do the planning for the effects of wind on the groundspeed and the time it will take to get from waypoint to waypoint as well as fuel needed for the flight. The second pilot is the observer and is responsible for ensuring the pilot in command is flying the speed and is right on time with the timing he had planned earlier. Event judges take all electronics other than installed electronics on the aircraft away from the pilots and tape them up in a box along with a GPS that records positioning of the aircraft on the flight. Pilots are graded based on timing, planned and actual, between waypoints, how far away the pilots were from their intended waypoint and amount of fuel used both planned and actual. I was an observer in this event and it is by far one of the most challenging. More than 1/2 of the teams end up DQ’ing due to various reasons.

Power Off Landings– These ones were relatively simple. Fly a simple pattern at a given height and an altitude. Pull power when abeam the touchdown line, and use your airspeed and flaps to the best of your ability. By pulling power, you simply pull the power to idle, hence, power off. There are judges scattered on the ground throughout the flight path of the pattern listening for any addition of power. There are various penalties that are tacked onto you. ex. adding power, overshooting final, skidding turn. All three of those examples are grounds for getting DQ’d. Landing outside of the “box” results in major point penalties. Shortest distance from the line results in a better score. The target line is pointed with one of the red arrows on the picture attached to this section. The “box” extends 100ft before the line, and 200ft after the target line. (Refer to picture at the end of this section for better understanding)

Short Field Landings– Very similar to the Power Off Landings but you get the “power”. You decide how much power you would like to keep in until touchdown. Keep in mind, once you pull out the power, you cannot re-add power. Once it’s out, its out.

Message Drop– This was the last event at these competitions because its a crapshoot. We have a pilot who is flying, and a drop master who throws the container. We are to fly at a specific altitude and speed. If we dip below either altitude or speed, it’s an automatic DQ. The event organizers don’t want us to stall out when flying 200AGL. Anyways, we are to drop two objects/containers that have been weighed and certified by the chief judges, at two 55 gallon barrel drums located somewhere near the runway and spread out by a few thousand feet. The goal: the aircraft/team with the lowest score wins. This is measured in feet. Wind and other factors are taken into account to be as precise as possible.


What’s the point of the competition?
The main point is to have fun with your fellow aviators while maintaining a positive and safe atmosphere. Those who are part of the teams made it to the national stage because of their knowledge as it pertains to aviation planning/navigation, as well as their piloting skills. This is not as simple as one may think, and it takes a lot of practice and studying.

What are the benefits?
The benefits are limitless; however, there are a few that standout. Before getting my gig Envoy, a regional airline in the US, I was in search of a company that I would like to eventually work for. Many airlines such as Republic, Compass, Envoy, and Skywest were at these competitions recruiting pilots. These airlines know that they’ve struck a gold mine when there are these young adults who can pilot and calculate things to the nearest foot or decimal. I personally have met and networked with many great people, those of whom I still contact. I’ve met with pilots that fly for Fortune 500 companies and many others. The last cool thing is that we get free stuff. I mean who doesn’t like free stuff? The last year that I attended this competition, Bose gave all of the participants weather they placed first or last, a new set of headphones. No, not the A20 headsets, but a nice pair of headphones. The companies that attended in our support spent thousands upon thousands of dollars simply because they saw something in us and were proud of it.

What did I do?
I was fortunate to attend this competition with my school for 3 out of the 4 years that I was in college. My freshman year was the beginning of my college career, and I figured it was best to get my bearings. Aviation was still new to me at this point. I began my sophomore year of college, and my flight instructor noticed something in me that I didn’t think I would be of much importance. I later found out that my flight instructor was one of the coaches for the “Flight Team” for the school. He asked me to do a few exercises for the ground events, and proceeded with the two landing events that I mentioned earlier. Keep in mind, he wasn’t looking for perfection but rather potential in this time of “scouting”. I was fortunate to make it onto the team in that second year of school. I began out on ground events. Regionally I did well placing in the top ten one year. Years 3 and 4, I made the transition from just ground events to ground and air events. By the time I graduated from college, I had done all of the events that I have mentioned in this thread. I was never in the top 20 nationally but I was never last. I say this, because I know things about myself that I didn’t forsee but others did. I tried my best, I performed to the best of my ability and that’s all that matters. The biggest take away for me was the experience and additional knowledge that I have taken in.

What is the grand prize for the school that wins?
Mainly, bragging rights. There are trophies that are handed out to schools that display a professional level of safety, and other things. Schools with the best score are generally recognized as well as top individuals. Some of the sponsors such as the airlines, BendixKing, Bose etc. give out monetary values in the form of checks to those that excel in specific areas of the competition.

I know that this has been quite the lengthy post, but if you made it to this part, I thank you. I have attached some photos that you guys may enjoy. I didn’t get any pictures of the ground events but a lot of these photos were on the ramp or near the runway at Delaware Municipal (KDLZ) and KOSU.


Republic E170 came in for a visit

Two Embry-Riddle Skyhawks sitting on the ramp

Transient aircraft that came in to visit

King Air 200 & Eurocopter AS365N3 as well as a 145 in the back

King Air 200

Republic’s arrival being marshaled in

Corporate Challenger pulling into the ramp

Contesting aircraft lined up for landing heats

Kansas State University Cessna 150K

University of North Dakota fleet lineup

Overall view of those that attended (Not all aircraft are present) This is about 75% of the group. Others were on a Navigation flight

BAe 125 better known as a the Hawker 800 and some piston that I’m not sure of

Skyhawk landing at KDLZ

Eurocopter departing KOSU

Kent State University Cessna 150H

United States Air Force Academy pulling their aircraft

Canadair Challenger

Multiple schools line up in the landing events


I’ve heard of these events before, they’re actually very cool to watch. Did Purdue come down to this? I feel like their aviation students come down to these, to either compete or spectate.

I’m hoping to join the flight team at Averett when I attend there this fall. Excited about doing this!!!

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Purdue was there with their SR20’s or 22s. Great group of people there.


What a bunch of rich kids lol. (I jest)


I’m right here!😂
I have a question: I know that this Safecon is coming up at KOSU again, but can the public attend? I would like to go watch and learn about attending an aviation college.

Generally not open to the public but there may be some areas that you can view from outside the property. Not exactly a college open house.

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Is the observation tower usually open?

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If you don’t win, you are getting booted off of the island 👞🏝

Just kidding of course, being able to compete is quite the honor, and winning the regionals is no small accomplishment. Congrats!


I think it was open for the entire event. That would be a great spot, and thats generally open to anyone.

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I’ll have to check it out! Especially since they are closing the old terminal for a completely new one to be built in July.

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If all these big flight schools bring there big Cirrus and Cessnas, can I bring my Maule since it’s got really short takeoff/landing capabilities?

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Riddle brings their Maule specifically for their landings.

Hey hey some maule competition. They are fun. If you ever get a chance fly one.

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