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Home / Academy News / Fresh Off the Runway: The USCGA Flight Team

Fresh Off the Runway: The USCGA Flight Team

Stefanie Senkow | April 21, 2023
Flight Team patchThe U.S. Coast Guard Academy Flight Team returned from the Service Academy Flight Competition held at Stewart International Airport from April 14-16. While the Coast Guard is the smallest of the service academies, the Flight Team brought ten cadet pilots and three ground crew to this year’s competition against the Naval Academy and the Military Academy. “We flew well, and our pilots won multiple events and all three teams came very close on points,” said Team Captain, Second Class Cadet (2/c) Alex Smigal. “Although we are there to fly and compete, it is always fun to interact with other cadets/midshipmen from West Point and Navy and compare what is similar and different about our academies and services.” To prepare, the Team practiced at the local Groton/New London airport. After a cadet-led safety briefing, Team members flew in pairs practicing for events in a Piper Archer owned by one of the coaches, and a Piper Cherokee owned by Coastal Air. Flight Team “To prepare we diligently practiced on weekends for the competition, using the simulator when the weather prevented us from flying,” said 3/c Laird Strand, Flight Team member. The competition featured four different flight skill events.
  • Short Field Landing – The objective of the Short Field event is to test the pilot’s skill at maneuvering and manipulating the aircraft.
  • Power-Off Landing – The pilot keeps the power reduced and at idle to manage the aircraft’s energy while gliding in for a landing and touchdown, preferably on the target line.
  • Message Drop – The pilot and dropmaster fly at 200 feet above the ground over two targets and drop a “message block” to hit a fixed target on the ground.
  • Navigation – Teams plan and fly a cross country flight over a three to five leg course between 70-120 nautical miles. Pre-flight calculations for estimated time for each leg, total time and fuel consumption are judged against actual flight data.
The Team took home eight individual performance medals. Team members consist of cadets with pilot’s licenses while others with none may participate in non-flying events. “I had no training before the Academy. I started flying helicopters after third class summer and have been working towards my license for almost two years since,” said 2/c Alex Regan, Ground Team member. 4/c William Spada comes to the team having earned his Private Pilot’s Certificate during high school. “Prior to enrolling at the Coast Guard Academy, I trained at my local flight school on Long Island. Between my high school course load, college applications, and working multiple summer jobs to pay for flight lessons, it was certainly a difficult – but worthwhile – process. After about nine months, I was able to attain my Private Pilot’s Certificate (License),” said Spada. 4/c Giselle Johnson’s participation in the Flight Team has been one of the best experiences she has had at the Academy. “It is a very unique opportunity to fly for the Coast Guard Academy and it has been an honor to do so. I never thought my aviation career would take me down a competitive route, but it has helped me grow to become a better pilot by putting a little more pressure to perform well and perform to a more particular and specific nature,” said Johnson. The Team has a robust coaching roster of experienced pilots with multiple ATP, Commercial, CFI and CFII certifications. The Team is recruiting pilots from the incoming Class of 2027 now, including those who are still in training to earn their Private Pilot Certificate. Please contact Captain (retired) Susan Bibeau at to learn more about the opportunities available to you as a member of the Flight Team!
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