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UND graduate to compete on U.S. aerobatic flight team

UND graduate Cameron Jaxheimer stands near his alma mater's aerospace building at the Grand Forks International Airport. After practicing there for years, he will now be part of the team representing the United States in the 2016 World Advanced Aerobatic Championships. Grand Forks Herald photo by Anna Burleson.1 / 2
UND graduate Cameron Jaxheimer stands near his alma mater's aerospace building at the Grand Forks International Airport. After practicing there for years, he will now be part of the team representing the United States in the 2016 World Advanced Aerobatic Championships. Grand Forks Herald photo by Anna Burleson.2 / 2

Cameron Jaxheimer has accomplished a lot since his mom Cheryl showed him photos of the far-away places she visited as a travel agent when he was young.

Those photos gave him an itch to see the world, so Jaxheimer took his first solo flight at age 16, got a private pilot license at 17 and went on to compete for UND's aerobatics team as a college student. To top it all off, he will be one of eight pilots representing the United States at the World Advanced Aerobatic Championships next year in Radom, Poland.

"It's a testament to his determination, skill and drive to make his dreams work," his coach, Michael Lents, said.

Jaxheimer, a 2015 UND graduate, was calm and collected even though he had been awake since 4 a.m. to fly in from Phoenix when he came to the UND Aerospace building at the Grand Forks International Airport on Monday afternoon.

"It's nice to have the freedom to travel where you want to go when you want to," he said.

Over the course of the year, Jaxheimer will attend 14 training camps and continue to practice aerobatic flight until the planes are put on a boat for the Czech Republic in June 2016. He will then join his teammates there and practice on site for two weeks prior to the 10-day competition in August.

"There are always nerves," Jaxheimer said. "The competitions are usually pretty stressful but you try to stay as focused and calm as possible."

Competitors will take to the skies one at a time to complete series of choreographed moves that encompass flips, long dives and everything in between. Pilots also have to develop some of their own routines to earn points based on difficulty and skill.

Lents, the UND Aerobatics Team head coach, said Jaxheimer was a great student.

"He really takes in everything he can and applies it to flying and demonstrates the airplane in a very clean, crisp way that presents well for judges," Lents said.

While several UND alumni have represented the United States at the annual World Air Sports Federation international competition, Lents said Jaxheimer is the first from the Aerobatics Team.

"UND has always had a great reputation within the industry of producing top-notch pilots and this is just another outward sign that we do produce top pilots who go on to compete at at worldwide level," Lents said.

Most recently, UND alumnus Jeff Boerboon competed on the 2015 U.S. team.

"We've had some representation in the past, but this is very significant because it's a very recent graduate," Lents said. "He'll be one of the youngest members on the team."

Jaxheimer knows many of his teammates from competitions but is closest to Kevin Coleman, a pilot he has worked with on air shows, and Mitch Wild. The other pilots on the team are Foster Bachschmidt, Craig Gifford, Steve Johnson, Kelly Adams and Mark Fullerton.

Donations to support the team can be made at teamusaero.com/sponsors as everything not covered by sponsors is paid for out of pocket by team members.

Jaxheimer said while he had always considered eventually going into commercial aviation, the more he flies acrobatically the less appealing the idea is. Short term, he plans to move to the southeast to continue practicing for the big show in 2016.

At the international competition, the winning team will take home a gold medal and recognition for life.

"It's pretty exciting," Jaxheimer said. "Hopefully, we bring home the gold."

Anna Burleson

Anna Burleson is the higher education reporter for The Grand Forks Herald. She is a 2013 graduate of the University of South Dakota's Mass Communication program and is originally from Watertown, S.D. Contact her with story ideas or tips by phone, email or Twitter, all of which are listed below. Examples of her work can be accessed here.

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