Flight team soars with alumni support

Group picture of flight team in front of their aircraft
The Ohio State Flight team consists of the “best of the best in aviation at Ohio State,” said Head Coach John Ginley ’15 (far left)

When aspiring aviators join the Ohio State Flight Team, they aren’t simply participating in a student organization—they’re joining a family.

With a rich history that dates back to the 1950s, the Flight Team is a student competition team that consistently ranks among the top five in the nation. Open to all Buckeyes, the team typically consists of 10-15 students pursuing one of three aviation bachelor’s degrees: engineering, air transportation or aviation management.

Following try outs, the alumni coaching staff selects the competition team based on performance, commitment and attitude.

“It’s the best of the best in aviation at Ohio State,” said Head Coach John Ginley ’15, an aviation engineering alum. Ginley, a former team captain, is a corporate pilot and also serves as a part-time flight instructor at the university.

“Flight Team has not only introduced me to some of closest friends, it has allowed me to grow as an individual, build confidence in myself, and greatly expand my industry and flight knowledge that I will use for the rest of my career as a pilot,” said Team Captain Ellie Brown, an air transportation major. “Being able to lead the team as a captain this fall will provide me with leadership and mentorship skills that I can use to inspire the next generation of pilots.”

The team competes in the National Intercollegiate Flying Association (NIFA), which hosts regional and national Safety and Flight Evaluation Conferences (SAFECON). In SAFECON, flight teams compete in a number of categories, testing their knowledge and skills not only in flying, but also in math, simulation and ground skills. Ground events include a pre-flight inspection in which competitors must identify discrepancies in a “bugged” aircraft, as well as a simulator test of their instrument flight rules (IFR) proficiency and precision. Flying events include precision landings, message drops with a goal of hitting a target on the ground, and a navigation test featuring a cross-country flight over a three-to-five leg course.

At the regional level, Ohio State competes with five other schools. The top three from each region receive an invitation to the National SAFECON where 30 to 35 schools from around the country compete. The Buckeyes will host the national competition in May 2022.

That competitive experience gives students something they can’t get inside a classroom, said Ginley.

“They’re making that choice to truly hone their skills and advance their knowledge as a pilot,” he said. “So when they graduate and move into the industry, they are undoubtedly ready to tackle that challenge. They think a little bit more outside the box—they know they have pushed themselves to be the very best at what they do.”

Ohio State Flight Team aircraft flying over the football stadium
credit: Lisa Ross

Ginley said the other big benefit of being on the team is the incredible networking opportunities—not just with other flight teams and industry sponsors during competitions, but with Buckeyes across the country who are eager to take new grads under their wings.

“There is a huge support network out there. No matter where they want to go in the industry, we very likely have multiple alumni there that are willing to help,” explained Ginley. “Whether it's a letter of recommendation or an interview, or some mentorship along the way.”

“The support that our team receives from the alumni is truly incomparable to anything I’ve ever been part of before,” added Brown. “The willingness of our alumni to continuously engage in our team practices and help us prepare for competitions, as well as offer their support and personal experience has had a huge impact on our success and overall team culture. It’s an attitude that I will without a doubt continue to uphold once I graduate.”

Not only do alumni give gifts of time and talent to the team, they contribute their treasure as well. The Flight Team’s two Cessna 150s—Scarlet 50 and Scarlet 51—were purchased and donated by former team members. And when maintenance, travel expenses, or equipment upgrades are needed, the alumni family rallies behind the team with financial support.

Ginley said the team’s commitment to be inclusive and have open communication with their alumni helps keep the group engaged, but it’s also a mindset that’s ingrained in students early on. Once they join the team, they’re a member for life.

“There’s just this culture—you're part of the team, you graduate, and now you're part of our alumni family,” he said. “It’s knowing that we are our own biggest support system.”

“Our alumni are truly what keeps the airplanes flying,” said Ginley. “And that support is never taken for granted; it’s an incredible asset that we have as a team. We’re very appreciative and grateful.”

Make a gift to help the Ohio State Flight Team keep soaring.

by Meggie Biss, College of Engineering Communications | biss.11@osu.edu