The University of North Dakota recently claimed its 15th National Intercollegiate Flying Association championship in 25 tries, with Aurelia native Ryan Guthridge leading the UND team.
UND scored a record 469 points at the May 18 - 22 competition in Cahokia, Illinois, breaking the old mark by three points. A total of 28 teams of the nation's top young pilots competed, with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University of Daytona Beach, Fla. taking second, and Western Michigan University of Kalamazoo, Mich. finishing third.
There are 12 NIFA regions in the country, and only the top two or three schools from each region are chosen to go to the national competition - only about 10% of the total number of schools who have college flying teams.
"The NIFA championship is equivalent to the NCAA Championships for athletics," said Bruce Smith, dean of the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences in Grand Forks, No. Dakota.
Team members put in hundreds of hours in classrooms, simulators, hangars, on the tarmac, and in the air to earn a spot on the team at UND.
"They'll spend a year practicing before they make the team," said Higgins. "Some have to go through a second full year and others into their third. It's just that competitive. They're exceptionally high-achieving, highly motivated students. A lot of these students will go on to be great leaders in our industry. Some will solve problems that don't even exist yet, because of the high mentality they have."
And the "top gun" among the UND champions this year? Team co- captain Ryan Guthridge, son of Russell and Sandy Guthridge of Aurelia, a 2005 Aurelia High School graduate.
Guthridge took first place in short-field landings with a total of just four penalty points. His first landing was just one foot from the line and his second was only three feet short. He also took third in navigation, fourth in preflight instruction, seventh in computer accuracy, ninth in crew resource management, 12th in aircraft recognition, and 14th in power off landings for a total score of 136 points, a new record.
His score gave him the top score among male pilots, and for his efforts, Aurelia's Ryan Guthridge was awarded the NIFA Top Pilot trophy for 2009.