Deep Dive in 5: SJSU’s Precision Flight Team

by | May 30, 2024 | Academics, Awards and Achievements, Featured

Members of the SJSU Precision Flight Team at the at the National Intercollegiate Flying Association (NIFA) Competition in Janesville, Wisconsin. Photo courtesy of Brandan Dadoun.

As the oldest aviation club on campus, San José State’s Precision Flight Team (or PFT) has a great legacy as well as a brilliant future. This May, members of the PFT flew to Janesville, Wisconsin for the National Intercollegiate Flying Association (NIFA) Competition — courtesy of Alaska Airlines, who sponsored free round-trip flights for several competitors (naturally enough, some of the others flew themselves in small aircrafts). Current PFT Treasurer Brandan Dadoun, ’26 Business Management, spoke to us about this unique experience.

Can you tell me a little bit about the Precision Flight Team and the competition?

Brandan Dadoun (BD): The PFT is like a sports team, except we fly airplanes and participate in events that help improve our skills as aviators. The team has 30 members, 16 of which are selected to attend regional and national competitions against other university flight teams. Our faculty advisor Daniel Neal, lecturer and undergraduate program advisor in aviation, also attended the competition.

In a regional competition last fall, the 2023/2024 PFT secured second place and earned an invitation to participate in the national competition for the third consecutive year. This year, the national competition took place in Janesville, Wisconsin, between May 13-17. During the competition, team members actively participated in all events, including ground tests to assess an aviator’s knowledge skills and flying actual aircraft with dozens of judges closely monitoring their every movement. 

The PFT has a rich history at San José State University and the greater National Intercollegiate Flying Association that hosts these competitions. The team has been around since the 1940s and was the inaugural team in the NIFA, which now comprises 78 teams from universities nationwide. 

How did the team get connected to Alaska Airlines and what was that experience like?

BD: Our team needed a way of getting to the competition site. Six members of our team flew their small planes across the country for multiple days to the competition site. For the remaining 10, Alaska Airlines generously sponsored the team round-trip travel onboard an Alaska flight. In addition to our sponsored airfare, they were kind enough to provide welcome and good wish announcements for the team at the gate and onboard the aircraft. PFT team members were ecstatic to hear our team announced over the PA, and even more overjoyed to learn that our airline pilots were SJSU alumni. Alaska Airlines truly went above and beyond for the team, and we are all extremely grateful.

Can you describe this year’s competition and its events?

Members of the Precision Flight team in the cockpit with the Alaska Airlines pilots.

PFT member Justen Lim,  ’27 Aviation, in the cockpit with the Alaska Airlines pilots. Photo courtesy of Brandan Dadoun.

BD: The 2024 National Competition was a resounding success for our team, earning us the Collegiate Aviation Progress Award from Cirrus Aircraft for our exceptional year-over-year improvements. We celebrated several victories, including my national first-place finish in the power-off 180 landings event, a first in San José State history.

During the power-off 180 landing event, pilots flying an actual aircraft need to efficiently manage their energy during a simulated total loss of engine power to land as close as possible to a marked line on the runway. Judges closely monitor all legs of the traffic pattern around the airport and score for any deviations. Dozens of judges stand alongside the designated landing line to monitor the aircraft’s final approach and touchdown. This event imposes additional challenges for the pilot, as they are not allowed to perform common maneuvers to help the pilot achieve a desired landing spot. These criteria ultimately test a pilot’s mastery of their aircraft. The pilot with no deviations and the closest distance to the designated “zero” line wins.

Team members also placed in the top 10 in various events. First Officer Ethan Fletcher, ’26 Aviation, and I both excelled in Crew Resource Management, a test of a pilot crew’s ability to work together effectively during challenging scenarios, and pilot Robert Guevara, ’26 Aviation, and drop master Ethan Fletcher, ’26 Aviation, demonstrated their precision in the dropping event, which involves accurately releasing an object from an aircraft. In the drop event, there are targets set up on the ground around the airport. The pilot will fly the aircraft over this target so the “drop master” can drop a 3D printed cylindrical shape out of the aircraft. The closest cylindrical object to the target wins the competition.

Alexander Sandy, ’25 Aviation, placed eighth in the preflight event, where contestants must identify if an aircraft is legal to fly. Judges deliberately place at least 30 issues on the aircraft, and the contestant who finds the most problems wins.

What was your most memorable moment in the competition?

BD: While the trip had many highlights, my exceptional teammates and friends created camaraderie and shared experiences that truly made it an unforgettable time.

What do you wish people knew about the Precision Flight Team at SJSU and this type of competition?

BD: The Precision Flight Team is the oldest aviation (and, arguably, the most unique) club on campus. Our goal has always been to create a space where anyone with a passion for flight — regardless of their major, experience, or background — feels welcome to join our team. In the coming year, we are excited to spread the word about our awesome club and welcome new members. We will also be reaching out to local organizations and businesses to share our accomplishments and mission in hopes of their financial support. Our club serves as a place to inspire and foster the next generation of highly skilled aviators, and we will continue to do so for the years to come.

Learn more about the San José State Precision Flight Team’s plans for the future.