Practice, practice, practice.

While that may be a mantra for hockey and football players, it also applies to members of the UND Flying Team, which recently took home its 17th national championship in the SAFECON competition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Student aviators took first place in six of SAFECON’s 12 events, which tested pilots’ abilities both on the ground and in the air, from aircraft recognition to manually navigating cross-country flights.

Coach Lewis Liang knew winning the championship wouldn’t be easy this year. He said the team was fairly young and experienced, with about half of the team's members having never before competed at nationals.

“We worked like we had nothing to lose and put it all on the line and just went for it,” he said.

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The team has finished first or second in 30 of the past 36 years at the National Intercollegiate Flying Association’s (NIFA) annual flight and safety competition and convention. This year is the first time since 2010 that the team has brought home the championship trophy.

The team annually attends two competitions: regionals, which is typically in the fall, and nationals, in the spring. Team members spend hours every week preparing for the competitions, in many cases more than 10 hours a week, on top of classes and other work.

“It’s just like any sports team. Instead of working weights from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. before class we’re studying aviation regulations or spinning our minds to work,” team member Ben Eidem said. “We’re working our brains all the time. It’s basically like a full-time job for a lot of people, or at the very minimum a part-time job.”

Eidem, an air traffic control major, said the competition is similar to a track or cross country meet in many ways because there are so many different events that test each person’s abilities.

“It’s really just a well-rounded competition that tests your basic airmanship skills,” he said. “It makes you a better aviator and better student. The materials that you learn with the team are going to help you through college and vice versa.”

Alexis Hesse, a commercial aviation and unmanned aircraft systems major, said the team spends a lot of time together and has become very close.

“The team is definitely a family,” she said.

But the students weren’t the only ones bringing back hardware last week.

Liang won Coach of the Year at the event. He has coached the UND Flying Team for the past decade, and took on new assistant coach Ryan Guthridge this year. Last year, Guthridge won Coach of the Year with the University of Nebraska-Omaha before returning to UND, his alma mater, as assistant professor of aviation.