Embry-Riddle Flight Teams Earn Top Marks at NIFA SAFECON

The Golden Eagles Flight Team celebrating after the NIFA SAFECON Awards Banquet on May 18, 2024.
The Golden Eagles Flight Team celebrating after the NIFA SAFECON Awards Banquet on May 18, 2024. (Photo: Embry-Riddle / Golden Eagles Flight Team)

After months of preparation and nearly a week of competition, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s residential campuses competed at the National Intercollegiate Flying Association (NIFA) Safety and Flight Evaluation Conference (SAFECON) held in Janesville, Wisconsin.

The Prescott Campus Golden Eagles Flight Team earned a third-place finish overall, with the Daytona Beach Eagles Flight Team finishing fourth while claiming the Competition Safety Award.

NIFA SAFECON, which took place May 13-18, challenges 32 participating collegiate flight teams with a demanding series of flying and ground events that test skills such as aircraft landings, navigation, aircraft recognition, computer accuracy and more.

The Prescott team shined in all categories, earning second place in ground events and third place in flying events. The Daytona Beach team also had a strong showing, earning sixth place in ground events and fourth place in flight events.

“Sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn," said Shaun Shephard, Golden Eagles Flight Team head coach. “This was a great learning experience for us, and we hope the team bounces back in the year ahead.”

The Golden Eagles have won 15 national championships over the past three decades, including a three-peat title run from 2021 to 2023.

“Overall, the competition this year was tight,” added Shephard. “We are disappointed, but we made it onto the podium, and we are looking forward to what lies ahead.”

The Eagles Flight Team at NIFA SAFECON in Janesville, Wisconsin.
The Eagles Flight Team at NIFA SAFECON in Janesville, Wisconsin. (Photo: Embry-Riddle / Eagles Flight Team)

Individual Champions

Graduating Aeronautical Science senior Zachary Sornoza won the individual national championship in aircraft recognition for the second consecutive year. A member of the Golden Eagles since 2021, Sornoza was also named an outstanding team member in the competition two years in a row.

“Zach truly embodies what a Golden Eagle is,” said Shephard. “He always brings a good attitude and a desire to be the best. He kept pursuing perfection and he brought that to the whole team.”

Second-year Golden Eagle Ethan Michon clinched the individual national championship in simulated comprehensive aircraft navigation (SCAN) and tied for first place in the unlimited navigation category, alongside navigation partner Zachary Meyer.

“Being a part of the Golden Eagles Flight Team is more than putting in the work,” said Michon. “You work countless hours alongside your mentors and teammates until they are like your second family. Hearing my name called for first place in both SCAN and unlimited navigation at the awards banquet were some of the best feelings in my life.”

Other top finalists for the Prescott Campus include students Jordon Wallen and Zoltan Belady who earned second and third place rankings in computer accuracy and aircraft recognition events, respectively.

Daytona Beach graduating senior and first officer for the Eagles Flight Team, Hoyong Lee, also earned an individual national championship in the instrument simulated flight event. Lee, a double major in Aeronautical Science and Computational Mathematics with a minor in Aviation Safety, says that this year’s performance at SAFECON will serve as a platform for the team’s future success.

“Being able to bring home first place in the event was a great honor and an incredibly fulfilling experience,” said Lee. “I am certain this award will be another steppingstone for our team, which will continue to excel in the future.”

Connor Faught and Jacob Sparks earned third place in the CRM/LOFT event, in addition to Sparks’ third-place finish in power-off landings. Garrett Koch and Grace Morris also took third in traditional navigation.

“These students have done an outstanding job at this year’s SAFECON,” said James Hanover, head coach of the Eagles Flight Team. “Their dedication to training and this university is displayed in their placement in the top five for flight events and the overall championship.”

About the Golden Eagles

The Golden Eagles Flight Team is consistently among the top collegiate flight teams in the nation and was inducted into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame at the San Diego Air and Space Museum in 2017.

Shephard, an Embry-Riddle alumnus with a degree in Aeronautical Science, joined the Prescott Campus flight department in 2008 as a flight instructor. Shephard assumed assistant coaching duties in 2019 before becoming the head coach in 2020.

“What makes the Golden Eagles special is their desire to be the best in everything they do. We say it every year: Be golden,” said Shephard. “Not just at the top of the podium, but in everything we do. The way we act, the way we behave, the way we learn — and the way we fly.”

See the full list of 2024 NIFA SAFECON National Championship results online

Posted In: Aviation