Volunteering in YOUR Aviation Community!

Patriots’ Day (the third Monday in April) means a great deal to us residents of Massachusetts. Originally for the patriots of our great country, the day shares its name with our (AGAIN) Superbowl Champion football team. At Fenway Park on Patriots’ Day the Red Sox host the only Major League Baseball game of the season to begin before noontime (Eastern). Which, I’m happy to report they won in convincing fashion this year, even though it was shortened due to rain. Of course, the day has always been “Marathon Monday” in Boston too. Due to the events of 2013, this has taken on a new Boston Strong meaning, and has given the people of Massachusetts a source of pride!

The weekend has come to mean something in addition for me. For me, Marathon Monday has become a travel day, to return home from a truly great event. Last year I participated in the first ever (I believe) flight competition for the military academies of the United States. The flight competition, known as the Inter-Service Flying Competition, is similar to National Intercollegiate Flying Association events, but replaces a good deal of the NIFA components with military tradition and activities. This year the flight teams, made up of cadets from the United States Military Academy at West Point, the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis and the United States Coast Guard Academy participated.

On Friday morning we were hosted by Take Flight Aviation at the Orange County Airport (KMGJ). Flight school owner Ryan is a great advocate for aviation and his operation is top notch and a breath of fresh air in the industry! Matt from the maintenance department went above and beyond helping us “bug up” an airplane for the preflight inspection event. Derek, another mechanic went out of his way to help us during the preflight inspection event as well. Everyone I had the pleasure of interacting with at Take Flight Aviation, illustrated exactly why they are a successful organization!

One of my favorite events is the preflight inspection. In preparation for the event I worked with Matt to create around 30 “bugs” on the airplane. This year we included everything from a fuel tank screw missing on the underside of the wing to having half of the stabilator anti-servo tab disconnected. During this event contestants must search an aircraft in intricate detail for items that prevent normal/safe operations.


One of the West Point competitors inspecting the cockpit…

For this event I decided to mix in a “major” bug, by removing the door of the Piper Cherokee 140. Following the event, I invited all of the teams into the hangar and went over some of the bugs as well as some tips for success for competitors in the future. My main goal was to illustrate not to miss the obvious!


One of the Annapolis competitors inspecting inside the engine cowling…

At the same time on Friday morning, Take Flight’s RedBird simulator was the platform for a simulation event. The ability to operate the simulator with precision is a must for success with this event where contestants fly a pattern with a bit of a military “twist”. The simulator event provides one of the only test of instrument pilots of the competitors as the majority of the competition is made up of VFR (visual flight rules) flying.


One of the cadets completing their simulator routine this picture from behind the judges table, complete with all kinds of technology!

Later in the day we shifted over to Dutchess County Airport (POU) for some flying! The weather was less than desirable in the morning but it improved steadily throughout the day, literally almost as if we planned it that way! Jeff from the airport operations staff at POU, for the second year in the row, went out of his way to help us facilitate the event. He and Scott (also from airport ops) escorted a couple of us judges out to Runway 24 to put down the runway stripes for the landing zone. The stripes took a little longer to put down as we pulled back to clear the runway quite a few times for incoming and outgoing traffic, which is a good problem to have!


Peter earning his judging stripes, putting the landing zone stripes down on Runway 24.

Close to 3:30pm we launched the first contestants for the short field landings and the teams from West Point and Annapolis performed very well. The Coast Guard Academy participated in ground events so they were not flying. All of the participants did a great job including some that demonstrated exactly what a short field landing should look like… Tail low (but not touching the ground), nose high, stall warning buzzing, etc…


How to  win… A full stall configuration right about to touch down on “The Line”!

The second day of our ahead-of-schedule event, Saturday, got off to a great start when the judges actually arrived before the competitors! We were quickly able to get the events rolling with the Power Off (180-degree) Accuracy Landing event as our first of the day. Following the landings we rolled right into a “target practice” drop event. During this event contestants completed a low pass (over the grass runway) and dropped two containers, aiming for 55-gallon barrels. The event is always fun and the safest spot for the judges to stand is at the barrel, because NO one ever gets it in the barrel…


This year Meagan took the concept of being close to the barrel to a new level! It’s also funny to note that one of the containers did actually “get” her, but it was after she got out of the barrel…

Immediately following the “target practice” event, everyone broke for a lunch break in the hangar. Then we progressed to the flight planning and navigation event. Contestants were given points from which to plan a flight based on current weather/NOTAM information. Participants then flew as a pilot/navigator pair for their roughly 1-hour flight.


After departing from POU, the route took competitors roughly due West to an abandoned airport, before beginning to make a “loop” around back to POU. The winning team had the GPS-tracked route closest to their plan based on track, time, fuel burn, etc…

Another thank you to Rich and Alyssa from Dutchess Aviation for their help throughout the event whether it was fueling aircraft during the navigation flight event or helping us get in and out of the competition hangar throughout the weekend. As the navigation flying was wrapping up on Saturday afternoon, the students took part in a game of very competitive stickball on a grassy area near the hangar we were using for the event.


The stickball game, it wasn’t quite Army vs. Navy, but all the cadets were into it!

I greatly enjoy having the opportunity to volunteer to help put these events on because I believe it is important. It is vitally important that as pilots we share our expertise and experience to help other pilots develop. The service academy event is not for scoring or for trophies. In fact no awards or trophies are presented! It is truly a skill, team and experience building event for the cadets. Sure, there is the pride of Army vs. Navy vs. Coast Guard thing, but it’s more about being better teammates and better pilots for these cadets.


Above, a true showing of sportsmanship between Army & Navy as the Annapolis team presented the West Point team with a plaque as a thank you to Army for organizing and hosting the Inter-Service Flying Competition this year and last.

This is just one way a pilot can give back to the aviation community. I try to invest my volunteering with new aviators, who are serious about having careers in aviation. There are plenty of other great ways to give back though. Providing Young Eagle rides is a way to be an ambassador to aviation, literally giving young people their first experience with flight. Something they will NEVER forget!

The challenge for this year is to find a way to give back to the aviation community! It could be in a variety of ways, but find some way you can help the aviation community get stronger and go for it. Remember, aviation is great because of how unique it is, but like an endangered species that needs to be protected, the pilot population is in trouble. The pilot population has been shrinking and declining, so anything we can do individually and/or collectively to help sustain and grow the number of pilots is important!

-Fly (and Volunteer) Safe, @MTElia1B9

Note: You can see some pictures from our visit to West Point on the April 2015 sub-page under Matt’s Photography in the menu, or by clicking HERE!



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