Flying Salukis to defend national title

By Tara Kulash

Team looks for more success during 50th anniversary

For more than three hours a day, SIU’s Flying Salukis practice their landing, navigation and computer skills to prepare for this year’s national competition.

Last year, for the first time since 1984, the flying team from the university’s aviation department placed first in the National Intercollegiate Flying Association competition. The team was eligible for nationals after it placed second in the


Midwest regionals to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The Salukis placed first in regionals this year and will go on to the national competition from May 14 to 19.

Kyle Hayes, a sophomore from Bourbonnais, said the national win was a proud moment for the entire team.

“Everyone went kind of silent,” he said. “We couldn’t believe it.”

Started in 1962 — two years after the aviation program was brought to SIU — the Flying Salukis have won eight national championships, said David NewMyer, department chair for aviation management and flight.

Tryouts are held in the fall, he said, and members must major in aviation management and flight, mostly because aviation student fees pay much of the team’s expenses. Non-flight students can take part in ground events, though, and the team is made up of about 15 to 20 students at a time.

This year’s event will be held at Kansas State University-Salina with between 28 and 30 teams competing, NewMyer said.

Kevin Krongos, assistant chief flight instructor, said each college supplies its own airplanes for the competition, so the Salukis will fly out to Salina in aircraft models Cessna 152 and 172R.

Krongos said students compete among each other to earn a slot in events at actual competitions such as landing, navigation, message drops and aircraft recognition. Message drops include students dropping an object from the plane to try to hit a ground target, Stephanie Armstrong, a senior from Seneca, said. Aircraft recognition is when a slide of an aircraft is shown for three seconds and participants guess what kind it is, Hayes said.

The most popular event is landing, said Courtney Copping, a junior from St. Charles, as many students compete to be placed in it.

There are power on and power off landing competitions, Krongos said, where power off includes the pilot bringing the engine to an idle and gliding to land on a line on the runway.

“The goal is to hit the line without adding power, excessive float, and you have to be lined up with center line on the runway,” he said.

The event has many penalties where pilots lose points, such as if one wheel picks up after landing.

Taylor Breum, a senior from Lake Villa, placed first in power on landings at last year’s nationals.

“They’re calling all the names off and you get to the top five and think, ‘Oh man, I didn’t place,'” he said. “So I take my coat off, sit back down and think, ‘Maybe next year,’ and then No. 1 came on, and they said southern Illinois.”

Breum said he knew he won first place because he was the last SIU student to place in the event. He said while it was his proudest moment, it’s put a lot more stress on him to place this year. He has a secret technique, though.

“I’m 6’2″ and I still use a booster seat,” Breum said.

He explained the plane’s nose is high up during landing competitions, which blocks the pilot’s vision of the line on the runway. Breum said his head touches the ceiling during landing practices, but it helps him to see his target.

Copping said she competed in the Simulated Comprehensive Aerial Navigation event last year, which tests knowledge of cross-country planning. She said she couldn’t believe when the team won.

“It didn’t feel real at first, but it keeps hitting me more and more as time keeps going on,” Copping said.

She said she’s excited for this year’s competition, too.

“I’m ready to go back in and show what we’ve got,” she said.

For some students, this will be their first trip to nationals. Jon Galante, a junior transfer student from Roselle, is competing for a spot at the event but has already been working as a student flight instructor for the university. He said even though he is relatively new to the team, he made friends quickly.

“We give each other a hard time, but it’s all in good fun,” Galante said. “We’re a pretty close team.”

Copping said being one of the only girls on the team has turned out to be pretty fun.

“It took some getting used to at first, but I love these guys. I’m basically one of them,” she said.

Students could be placed in their events as close to a few days before the competition, Krongos said.

Going to nationals for a second time is a big deal, NewMyer said, and many of the teams will compete extra hard to beat SIU.

“It’s certainly a long tradition at SIU aviation to have the flying team, and we’re just hoping we can defend the national title again this year,” he said.