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Rising pilots return to test skills at Franklin airport

Published 10:48am Monday, October 14, 2013

STEPHEN H. COWLES/STAFF WRITER
stephen.cowles@tidewaternews.com

FRANKLIN—To hone their skills, Region Ten of the National Intercollegiate Flying Association will have a flight meet that begins this Wednesday and continues through Saturday. The participants have once again chosen the Franklin Municipal-John Beverly Rose Airport as their venue.

“It’s kind of like a track meet,” said Ernie Rogers, chief judge for the competition, which includes both aerial and ground tests. Each event has a first- through third-place slot, and scores are totaled for an overall winner. Next May, that victor would go to the national championship air meet, which will be hosted by Ohio State University.

Teams are expected from Averett University, Elizabeth City State University, Gilford Institute of Technology, Hampton University, Liberty University, and the United States Naval Academy.

Rogers, who lives in Lynchburg, described the flying tests.

“So we have flying. There are short precision landings. Then there’s power on, which is the use of the control throttle, and power off, which is pull power to idle and ideally land on a cross line,” he said. “The navigation event covers 150 miles and teams hit four different check points by following ground references.

The teams have to figure how much is needed in the way of fuel and time, etc. They each get a 30-minute planning session after learning of their destinations at the event.

Target practice consists of flying over the runway at 200 feet and dropping a container on a target.

Ground competition includes aircraft recognition. Members see a plane for three seconds and have to identify its name, nickname and maker.

The E6B (navigation) calculator requires figuring a fuel burn rate. Teams should already be proficient, added Rogers.

The scan test is to create a flight plan.

There’s a desktop simulator on which students fly a pattern and have to maintain certain altitudes and speeds.

A pre-flight contest requires finding discrepancies put in place on an airplane.

Then there are safety events, which include judges’ interviews and initiatives on enhancing safety.

Rogers, who’s already judged the event for the last few years, served as the coach of the Liberty team for five years. After his 27 years of service in the Navy, he came to LU and started its flight school.

He’s also the associate dean of LU Aeronautics, and a NIFA board representative from Region 10; that territory includes Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland and West Virginia.

As previously mentioned, the Region Ten has visited Franklin before; the teams were here two years ago, said Rogers.

“They treated us so good we wanted to come back,” he said. “Jimmy Gray, the airport manager, went out of his way to make it a successful event for us. Jimmy is wonderful. Without him we wouldn’t do it. They all were very friendly to us. It’s just a good place.”

To further foster that atmosphere, Theresa Beale of the Franklin-Southampton Chamber of Commerce is urging city merchants to promote their businesses during the four-day event. The chamber and the Franklin-Southampton Economic Development Inc. are coordinating the creation of goody bags that feature coupons, menus, flyers and other items for the visitors.

Rogers praised fellow judges, who are all volunteers and many of whom are from Virginia. One of those he singled out is Linda Mathias of Norfolk.

“She’s great,” said Rogers. “She’s probably been doing it longer than anybody.”

A former resident of Windsor, Mathias confirmed she’s been judging NIFA events for about 17 to 18 years, three consecutive times as chief judge.

“We enjoy it because it’s so rewarding to work with these up-and-coming young pilots,” she said. “Some of the judges aren’t even pilots. The organization has a rulebook with criteria. We’re open to anybody who would like to volunteer.”

Some of the past judges are fellow members of the Hampton Roads Chapter of the 99s, a league of women pilots.

“The percentage of female pilots hasn’t changed in a long, long time,” said Mathias. “It was six percent then and still, and that was 42 years ago.”

She said the Federal Aviation Administration is among the agencies that keep such statistics. Meanwhile, the 99s strive to get more Virginia women to fly. Last June, the members offered free rides to females of all ages. At least three more such events will be offered next year.

Mathias’ enthusiasm began when a coworker told her about his flying lessons 42 years ago.

“Gee, that sounds like something I’d like,” she said. “And I have been doing it ever since.”

Her two planes are an experimental Lightning 2007 model and a Piper Cub 1946, both hangared in Franklin.

Although the flight meet is not intended for the public, Mathias said they are still welcome.

To learn more, contact Rogers at erogers@liberty.edu.

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