South Carolina JROTC unit seeks & destroys at 1st-ever statewide simulator comp

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  • By Article courtesy of Philip Simmons High School AFJROTC

A team of four Air Force JROTC cadets from Philip Simmons High School, Charleston, SC, captured the overall simulated flight title at South Carolina’s inaugural Aviation Competition held at Patriots Point, SC, Jan. 31 – Feb. 1.

AviCom as it is known, is a new statewide competition for students in aviation and aerospace programs, organized by the South Carolina Aviation High School Alliance. The competition included simulated flight missions in Patriots Point’s state-of-the-art flight simulator, Airman knowledge and aircraft identification tests, mission briefings and professional development workshops.

Cadets Andersen Spina and Ian Mullaney, both juniors, and freshman Cadets Sam Sablotsky and Brian Stambaugh brought home a couple of individual awards, $750 toward the school’s AFJROTC program, and won a weekend flight experience at the Trip Tree Aerodrome near Spartanburg, SC, in August.

Unit SC-20201 Philip Simmons High School’s AFJROTC program is almost three years old.  It is led by senior aerospace instructor Retired Lt. Col Christopher Ott and aerospace science instructor Retired Chief Master Sgt. Michelle M. Siau.

Ott praised his cadets for working very well together. 

“This was their first one so I really didn’t know what to expect, but I can tell you this is a really strong team so they were able to win,” he said, “To me… they already work closely together, so I really think that was our strength.”

The event gained state and national recognition: Philip Simmons High’s cadets will be featured in the next issue of AviNation Magazine. Moreover, U.S. Representative William Timmons and South Carolina State Superintendent of Education Ellen Weaver were part of a welcome video for participants.

The overnight competition took place aboard the USS Yorktown, the well-known aircraft carrier docked at Patriots Point. Participating students and instructors spent the night below deck in the dorms.

On Tuesday night of the competition, students participated in a “flight briefing” where they were given the details of what the simulated mission would look like – certain rules they had to comply with, what the weather conditions were going to be in the simulation, what type of plane they were flying, etc.

In the actual simulation, students had to fly an aircraft departing from the USS Yorktown off the coast of Kiawah Island and race to Charlotte, North Carolina. The simulated flights were timed, and students had to comply with FAA regulations to get the aircraft safely to Charlotte International Airport while enduring cloudy skies at 10,000 feet with some wind.

Spina piloted the plane and Stambaugh was the co-pilot on one of the USS Yorktown’s flight simulators to complete the mission. Sablotsky and Mullaney served as air traffic control, helping the pilots navigate from another room using a radar scope and maps.

The cadets have experience training on their school’s flight simulator (read more about the flight simulators at Philip Simmons High), but an additional challenge was the World War II aircraft they flew in the simulation – an F4U Corsair – which none of them had previously flown in a simulated flight. The plane has a taildragger, which keeps the nose propeller up higher and makes it hard to see the runway.

Despite the challenges, Philip Simmons High’s cadets flew the plane in 51 minutes and went on to secure the state title. They competed against nine other teams from across the state. Teams mostly consisted of three to four students.

“I had high hopes and high expectations for us, because I know all of us have been working hard and we’ve all been studying,” Spina said.

In addition to the $750 that Ott plans to use to purchase equipment for his school’s AFJROTC program, the students also earned a trophy, as well as a “traveling trophy”, which is a wooden replica of a plane propeller. Philip Simmons High cadets hope to retain their title next year and keep the propeller.

Additionally, Spina also won the overall individual award, earning a $1,000 flight training scholarship and a $200 prize for having the highest score on the Aircraft Identification Exam.

“I’m very happy with how well all of us did,” Spina said. “To sweep the floor, I think, was awesome for all of us.”

Sablotsky placed third in the Airmen Knowledge Exam and won a Private Pilot Virtual Test Prep program.

“It (the competition) most definitely beat my expectations,” Sablotsky said. “I thought we were going to at least get top half – I didn’t expect to win it.”

Sablotsky said he feels really good about the team’s recent success.

“I know I improved from when we all did practice tests on our own to…the actual test time,” he said. “The outcome of it will almost definitely help me with my PPL (private pilot license).”

While excited about winning, Stambaugh said the most important part is seeing personal growth and progress as a team.

“I’m very, very proud because our corps is very, very small. So to be able to come out from a very small group of cadets and win the state is beautiful," said Stambaugh.

Mullaney said he looks forward to working with his teammates again next year.

Many AFJROTC units have Aviation Clubs, some with flight simulators, as part of their Leadership Development programs. For information on this and Air Force Junior ROTC go to their website.