U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo., January 27, 2014 (AFNS) – Academy cadets left their competition in the dust by winning their ninth consecutive National Sailplane Racing Championship for 2013 and earning the Collegiate Soaring Association’s Robert B. Evans Trophy for the 15th time in 19 years.
This year, the Academy’s Sailplane Racing Team beat Embry-Riddle University and Penn State, which placed second and third, and had their second-best season in Academy soaring history — flying 21,688 miles and ranking 16 percent in the world out of 1,448 clubs, said Mark Matticola, the soaring team head coach and director of advanced soaring for the 94th Flying Training Squadron here.
The SRT achieved 115 flights over 100 miles this year (89 of them over 200 miles. The farthest flight was accomplished by Cadet 2nd Class Sarah Sill and Lt. Col. Bill Gagen who flew 251 miles at the Region 9 Cross-Country Competition in Hobbs, N.M., June 25, 2013.
The Academy’s longest flight was achieved by Capt. Billy Jacks, a solo cross-country qualification flight recorded at six hours and 41 minutes at a training deployment in Littlefield, Texas.
“This year they won 15 state youth and female soaring records in Texas for the first time ever,” Matticola said. “They also took fourth place at the 2013 Hobbs, N.M., Regional Soaring Competition, flying 3,796 miles, and receiving 30 awards from the Soaring Society of America and 20 from the Federation Aeronautique Internacionale.”
The sailplane racing team continues to showcase the excellence of every cadet at the Academy, said Col. Joe Rizzuto, the commander of the 306th Flying Training Group.
“They are every bit the professional and expert at what they fly as their counterparts across the operational Air Force,” he said. “I am proud of our sailplane racing team, our soaring instructor pilots, and all of our airmanship cadets for what they accomplish every day.”
There are currently five seniors and five juniors on the SRT. Members go through an objective and subjective selection process, and are chosen from the 94th Cadet Soaring Instructor Pilots, Matticola said.
“Academics, military, leadership positions, flying ability, situational awareness, interview scores and input from staff and cadets all play a role in the selection,” Matticola said. “Cadets are normally chosen during their sophomore year after their IP upgrade is complete.”
The accomplishments cadets have made over the past five years in the 94th FTS are amazing, Matticola said.
“They work 12 hours a day with the squadron during the summer when they’re here helping our core programs,” he said. “Then they take those skills, and use them to learn from some of the best soaring pilots in the world at the competitions we attend. As a supervisor, I’m continually amazed that we take 20-year-old cadets, teach them how to fly, give them a $130,000 glider, and tell them to go fly 250 miles away from home on their own, with no engine, over three mountain ranges to 18,000 feet into another state.”
The aviation experience, confidence, and leadership skills cadets receive from soaring is tremendous, and the value of these programs speaks for itself when you look at how well these cadets do in their careers after graduation, Matticola said.
“I’m incredibly proud of all of my advanced soaring members for what they continue to accomplish for themselves and the Academy,” he said.