SIU Flying Salukis finish second in nation; recent SIU grad earns top pilot honors

Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Flying Salukis might be young, but youth didn’t stop the team from continuing its legacy of victory in collegiate aviation recently.

Paced by top pilot and recent graduate Dayne Snodgrass, the Flying Salukis finished second at the National Intercollegiate Flying Association (NIFA) championships May 18 at Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport in Janesville. The finish marks the 15th straight year that the nine-time national champions have finished in the top five nationally and 12th time in 13 years SIU has been in the top three overall.

With five team members scoring among the top 21 competitors, Coach Nathan J. Lincoln, a senior lecturer in aviation management and flight in the School of Aviation, was pleased with the team’s performance. In the May 13-18 competition with 31 teams, the University of North Dakota won the title, followed by SIU Carbondale just 17 points behind in flight events and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Prescott.

With just two graduating seniors on the team, Lincoln said the team’s performance was “awesome.”

“We have a very young team, so having the ability to place second out of 31 teams was an amazing accomplishment,” he said. “Everyone should hold their head high knowing they represented SIU so well.”

Snodgrass, from Byron, Illinois, who graduated with a degree in aviation management on May 11, was the top scoring contestant with 155.5 points. He won the short-field landing competition along with the traditional navigation event where he was the pilot and Samuel Cogan was the safety observer.

“Dayne’s performance this year was outstanding,” Lincoln said. “Winning two events and placing so well in others is extremely difficult at the national level. His dedication over the last few years has shown with this amazing accomplishment.”

Snodgrass, who has earned a minor in air traffic control and associate degree in aviation flight, also works as a certified flight instructor at SIU. He said he “couldn’t have asked for a much better performance.”

“Being able to keep the mental focus to place in the top three in each flying event is extremely difficult to accomplish,” Snodgrass said. “It is not easy to prepare for eight total events and then actually place and perform well in most of them.”

Results are available on the NIFA website.

The Flying Salukis placed in all 11 events they competed in, with seven team members scoring points in the competition.

Weather issues in the weeks leading up to the competition limited flight practices, but Lincoln noted the team’s ability to quickly adapt.

“We had a lot of difficulty getting practice in before we left for the competition, but we were able to come together in the last couple of weeks to perform when it counted,” Lincoln said.

The most difficult part in preparing for the competition is the unknown, Snodgrass said.

“For any given event there are multiple variables that can easily change the outcome,” he said “For example, in the landing events, the wind speed, gusts, turbulence, aircraft performance and even the performance of the aircraft in front of you must be considered. For the navigation event, the same applies except now your route, turn points and secrets may be tougher or harder to find than the other routes.”

Snodgrass noted that the team also finished second in the Judges Trophy competition, which he noted “shows that the team’s overall performance is consistent with our placement.”

“We relied on some new members for many events,” Snodgrass said. “I am very excited to see how the team grows in the years to come.”

After Snodgrass, Samuel Cogan, an aviation management graduate from Alton, Illinois, was seventh overall with 78 points.

The team’s legacy of success — which includes nine national titles, 12 straight Region VIII titles and 54 NIFA championship appearances — isn’t easily dismissed and brings “an immense amount of pressure,” Snodgrass said.

“The legacy left behind by the many generations before us is not something to be taken lightly,” Snodgrass said. “Out in the industry and especially at NIFA competitions you meet alumni who are watching and rooting for your success. As co-captain, this pressure is compounded because now your team members also look to you as a teacher, leader, role model and a top performer. Nevertheless, captains have to be able to manage their own workload as well as adapt to the needs of each individual member to improve overall performance.”

Lincoln, who was a 1997 and 1998 team member, said being able to represent SIU “at these competitions is a great honor.”

“I take so much pride in being able to show SIU and everyone in the industry what a wonderful flight program we have,” he said.

Lincoln noted the work of assistant coaches Mike LeFevre, Sydney Reijmer and Matteus Thompson in getting the team prepared for success. All are former Flying Salukis, he said.

“For years I have been blessed with some of the best coaching staff in the country,” he said. “It truly takes everyone's commitment to make this possible.”