SIU top in aerobatics

By Gus Bode

In most competitions, SIU’s Rotor and Wing Association of American is the underdog.

They continually compete against airline pilots from TWA, United Airlines and other big-name companies – and they win.

“These guys regularly compete directly against professionals who have been doing this for years,” said Charlie Rodriguez, rotor and wing faculty adviser. “And it’s not uncommon for them to beat them.”


The aerobatics group is also unbeaten in the college level. They traveled to Oshkosh Wis., last week to officially accept first place in the International Aerobatic’s Club’s intercollegiate competition. Rotor and Wing also took the award last year, its first in competition

Throughout the year, scores are compiled from various competitions involving college students and professionals, and compared to universities throughout the country.

But with two top pilots having graduated last semester, the organization may be left in the dust, with only one student remaining to compete.

Caleb Robinson, a junior in aviation technology from Carbondale, stepped into Rotor and Wing last year, filling the empty role left by team captain Ty Englehardt, who led the group through its first season of competition.

The past two years, team captains Englehardt and Matt Boehm, SIU alumni, have been awarded top pilots in the intercollegiate competition, leaving big shoes for Robinson to fill.

“This year we’re going to have to focus on the fundamentals,” Rodriguez said. “I’d like to keep the trophy for another year, but it’s going to take work.”

Not only does the group need members, they need financial support.


Each plane used for competition costs upwards of $50,000. Each hour of flight practice can cost anywhere between $75 and $100. Oil changes, fuel and general maintenance are all expected expenses throughout the year, and all are paid out-of-pocket by team members.

“They don’t usually practice everyday, but the cost adds up over time,” Rodriguez. “I mean, you’ve got to have a little money to do this.”

The work of an aerobatics pilot can also be physically and mental exhausting in what Rodriguez calls the toughest sport around. Pilots fly around 11 maneuvers in a 1,000-meter box

They maneuver the plane through loops and turns, speeding it to speeds above 200 mph and slowing to a mere 20 mph in seconds.

The gravitational forces of their actions can make them feel half their weight and then within a moment, nearly a ton.

“The pilots literally put their bodies through hell,” he said.

Even with the repercussions, Robinson said there isn’t anything he likes to do more than fly.

Robinson had been flying years before he adopted the style of aerobatics last year. He is currently recruiting students to join his squad in his quest to claim the collegiate trophy a third time.

“It’s like ice-skating – it’s a set routine,” he said. “You have to pay attention to form, symmetry, execution. It’s very challenging.”

Rotor and Wing group members also participate in local air shows as a fund-raiser for their competitions. They also throw aeronautic science campus for youth groups such as 4-H Club and Boy Scouts.

Reporter Katie Davis can be reached at [email protected]