By Matt Watson
Before enrolling at Metropolitan State University of Denver, Vibeke Gaard had never flown aerobatics, the sport that turns flying upside down among other aerial maneuvers. Four years later, she’s flown for two national championship teams on her way to becoming a commercial pilot.
Gaard was a founding member of MSU Denver’s Aerobatics and Glider Club, which was certified as the 2019 national collegiate champions by the International Aerobatic Club this month – MSU Denver’s second title in three years. The Roadrunners finished as national runners-up in the club’s first year of competing (2016) and again in 2018 and won their first championship in 2017.
MSU Denver finished with 6,571 points out of a possible 7,650 (85.9%) in 2019, beating out the defending champion University of North Dakota (82.5%) and the third-place U.S. Air Force Academy (79%). Gaard had the second-highest individual score, behind Ben Bagby of the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith, while Roadrunners Jenna Coffman and Samuel Robinson finished in seventh and eighth place, respectively.
For Gaard, it has been quite the ride since the team first took flight.
“I actually did all the paperwork to start the club before I’d even had my first lesson with (coach Dagmar Kress),” she said. “We didn’t come into it thinking we would win. It was a lot of hard practice and getting a good team put together.”
Kress, the aviation affiliate faculty member who coaches the team along with Mike Forney and Nick Slabakov, said she isn’t surprised that MSU Denver has been so successful in aerobatics so quickly.
“You should never limit yourself. It’s not rocket science – it’s all in the practice,” Kress said. “I’m very happy that we’ve won again, but winning is not everything. I’m really excited that we had 10 students on the team, and they all put so much effort and time and money into this. They have to take off work, they have to spend money to fly and to practice, and they pulled together.”
Austin Belleau, who was voted as team captain when Gaard graduated, said their efforts show that a recently founded team can compete and win on the national level.
“As a team, we are proving that MSU Denver aerobatic pilots have the capability to fly airplanes to the absolute edge of the envelope with the highest levels of precision,” he said.
As for Gaard, she is still involved in aerobatics after graduating last May. She has judged three competitions since getting certified in the fall, and she plans to compete individually in future contests. This year, she intends to enter the first-officer program with regional airline Republic Airways. She says her aerobatic experience prepared her to be a better pilot.
“Every pilot should do a little aerobatics to practice upset recovery,” she said. “It makes you a safer pilot.”
Aviation and Aerospace Science Chair and Professor Jeffrey Forrest echoed that sentiment.
“Our students are learning challenging and hands-on flight skills in aircraft that are extremely demanding to fly,” he said. “This prepares our graduates to be top contenders for jobs in the commercial world of aviation and air transportation.”
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