March 22, 2023

Aviation soars at USU Eastern

Carbon County’s mountain ranges and

strong winds kick up from all directions to

often challenge the most experienced pilots.

That didn’t stop young aviators from six

colleges and universities in the Rocky Mountain

West from flying into Carbon County Regional

Airport/Buck Davis Field in Price last month

for the National Intercollegiate Flight Associate

Region I Flight Team competition.

Joining Utah State University were the

United States Air Force Academy in Colorado

Springs, Colorado; Metropolitan State University

in Denver; Rocky Mountain College in

Billings, Montana; Aims Community College

in Greely, Colorado; and Utah Valley University

in Provo, which joined the week-long event after

an eight-year hiatus.

USU’s flight team placed third and will

receive and invitation to compete in the NIFA

national competition at Ohio State University

beginning May 9, 2022. The United States

Air Force Academy placed first, followed by

Metropolitan State University.

Carbon County was the ideal venue. The

airport has no air traffic control tower that

might create an obstacle and an empty ramp

and ample space for parked aircraft. Access

to classrooms gives space for written tests and

instructions. It offers a unique set of challenges

for the student pilots because of unfamiliar

runways, the potential for high winds and its

proximity to the mountains.

“I’m a fairly inexperienced pilot and

I haven’t been to a ton of places,” said Jordan

Burkett, captain of the USU student flight team.

She said, “Coming out here was definitely different

and took some adapting. There’s some

nervousness about randomly switching runways

and not knowing what to do with the winds. But

you trust your skills and your practice, and it

generally ends up okay.”

The competition included nine judged

events: four flying, and five on the ground. The

flying events included two types of landings:

a short field landing and a power off landing.

Other flying events tested the pilots’ precision

and flight planning, and a message drop where

weights are dropped at a target from low-flying


While they are not the most popular, the

ground events test the pilots’ precision, planning

and knowledge. Preflight asks students to locate

over 30 discrepancies that make an aircraft

unworthy of flight. In the computer accuracy

test, students use an E6B flight computer to

solve flight planning problems. In the aircraft

identification test, students identify aircraft

from photographs. A navigation test assesses

the students’ ability to read charts, flight plans,

and distribute weight and balance. The ground

trainer/simulator test evaluates how closely

students follow an established flight path in

the least amount of time.

The flying events were Burkett’s favorite

— and least favorite. “They are the most

anxiety-inducing, but also the most rewarding,”

she said. “I’m prouder of my flying than anything

else at the end of the day.”

John Boranian and his U.S. Air Force

Academy teammates hope to become Air Force

pilots after graduation. This was his first NIFA

competition due to COVID-19 restrictions and

he says competing has been a tremendous opportunity

for his future career.

“It’s really amazing to see how formal

competition goes and to see how practice,

sometimes three years of it, has paid off,” Boranian

said. “It’s a wonderful combination of

aviation, community, and competition. If you

like to compete and be the best at what you do,

there’s nowhere better to be.”

“The flying has been a blast,” said Utah

Valley team captain Abigail Bowcut, a senior,

who is establishing a team of younger students

to continue the flying team in the future. “I’ve

felt the best about navigation and short field

landing. We’ve been very grateful to get a lot

of helpful information. It’s been fun flying away

from Provo and learning about other planes.”

Students found it a challenge to maintain

their schoolwork during the week of grueling

competition. “It’s not easy to do, learning everything

we need to learn while being in Price,

Utah,” Boranian said.

But they said it was worth the sacrifice

because this was their major competition of

the year and offered them unique flying opportunities.

“We get to do things here that most of our

friends will never even see in their entire pilot

career because they’re going to go from their

training in Billings straight to the airlines,” said

Justin Garcia of Rocky Mountain University.

Andreas “Baron” Wesemann, Director of

the USU Professional Pilot Program, served

as the organizer and host for the competition.

Two years ago, the aviation program set roots

at USU Eastern, and this year, the Unmanned

Aerial Systems (drone) program started. USU

Eastern will host the NIFA Regional I competition

for a third straight year in 2022.

“The full aviation program will hopefully

be here at USU Eastern shortly, as we continue

to expand and grow,” Wesemann said.

He says everyone involved went above and

beyond. Students and faculty from the competing

universities commented that the competition

was a fantastic experience. Wesemann says,

“We’re grateful for the support of our community,

especially USU Eastern, Carbon County

Airport personnel, and County Commissioner

Casey Hoops.”

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