Looking out at the Dane County airport from the inside of a four-passenger plane about to proceed onto the runway for takeoff, the door adjacent to me popped open and pilot Kelly Abplanalp grinned and said, “Don’t worry if that happens while we’re in the air; you won’t fall out.”
Recently, I participated in a fly-out with Badger Aviators, an event they partake in roughly each month, during which they try to fly out to a location and eat lunch together. This month’s destination is approximately 30 miles away in Lone Rock, Wis.
Badger Aviators is a student organization founded in 2009 by University of Wisconsin-Madison freshman and aviation enthusiast Gregory Oudheusden, who wanted to share his passion of flight with fellow students.
Josh Gilberts, the current president of Badger Aviators and a senior studying industrial engineering, decided to start the Wisconsin Aviation Team, a competitive flying team within the organization. Gilberts said he started the team after a Madison native living in North Dakota alerted him to the opportunity of competitive flying.
Last month, the team participated in its first flight competition in Dubuque, Iowa, which consisted of both flying skills and ground events, including comprehension tests. Though the team did not advance in the competition, Gilberts said they surprised a lot of people by what they did accomplish.
Gilberts added UW-Madison was the only team competing that did not have an aviation program through its university.
“Everyone we were competing against was majoring in some type of aviation, and here we’d come, a student organization to compete against these people,” Gilberts said.
One of the biggest challenges for the group, according to Gilberts, has been funding for training and competitions.
“Anytime anyone wants to go practice they have to rent the plane themselves and pay for it,” he said. “Other schools have funding that their students can go out every morning or afternoon and fly for free. Financially, it’s on ourselves.”
Gilberts said the Wisconsin Aviation Team plans to compete again in regionals next fall with the hope of moving on to nationals in the spring.
At the end of the day on the flight home, team adviser Gary Lupyan took us through a “city tour” of Madison. In the cloudless fall day, we looked over aerial views of Camp Randall, the Isthmus and the Capitol building.