Tom Daly was walking through the halls of the aviation building at Dowling College last fall when he was approached by a young student.
She asked if he was the adviser for the Flying Lions, the college’s flight team. He was. She asked if she could try out even though she was a freshman without her pilot certificate.
“For actual flying events, you need a private pilot certificate,” Daly said. “I asked her how much flight time she had. Sometimes, we let people come on if they already have achieved some of that.”
She had just finished her first hour of instruction 10 minutes earlier.
“I said, ‘OK, with that kind of enthusiasm and boldness, you’re on the team,’” said Daly, associate dean and director of academic and flight training programs at the college.
The student went on to win first place in the regional competition for the message drop, an event that’s open to students without a pilot certificate.
It’s that kind of excitement -- paired with talent and hard work -- that Daly said has made the Flying Lions one of the most successful flying teams in the region, recently sweeping this year’s regional flying competition.
At the 2011 Region VII National Intercollegiate Flying Association competition, held at Dowling’s Brookhaven campus Oct. 21 to Oct. 23, the Flying Lions took home the safety award, top team, top pilot, and the highest scores for both ground and flight events.
The success qualifies the team to head to Kansas in May for the national competition. The other schools that participated in the regional competition included: Bridgewater State University, Delaware State University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Schenectady County Community College and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
“We’re competing with all the top schools in the nation, including the military academy,” Daly said. “It’s certainly a rating that matters, and, for the students, a measure of where their school stacks up in terms of talent.”
Team Captain Andrew Bush, a junior at the college who has been a member of the Flying Lions since his freshman year, was named Top Pilot this year. He said he felt confident that he did well throughout the competition, but didn’t know how he would match up to other pilots at the event.
He said the award is not announced until the awards banquet at the end of the three-day competition.
“There were other teams with a lot of talented pilots,” he said. “So I really didn’t know until they called it, and then they said your name and it’s really, really exciting.”
Freshman Jillian Reeves, of Valatie, N.Y., earned her private pilot license before enrolling at Dowling College. She said she sought out a spot on the flight team to improve her performance. At regionals, she served as a co-pilot in the navigation and message-drop events.
“Being part of NIFA looks great, it’s such a prestigious group,” she said. “The flight team in general, they hold you to such a higher standard so you become such a more knowledgeable pilot.”
Bush said he’s excited to go to nationals with his team and feels confident they’ll do well.
“Hopefully we’ll place in events,” he said. “I think we have a good chance of winning a few trophies.”