By Andy Ross

Killeen Daily Herald

Up-and-coming student pilots from around the South will be putting their flying skills to the test this week in the skies above Killeen.

For the first time since 2005, Central Texas College is hosting the regional flight competition known as the Safety and Flight Evaluation Conference (SAFECON).

The event, part of the Region IV National Intercollegiate Flight Association, is taking place all week at Skylark Airport.

Instructors in charge of CTC's aviation program said more than 100 student competitors are scheduled to be in attendance, representing schools from Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

"I'm very proud to host the Region IV event," said Curtis Gibson, CTC aviation science department chairman. "This is a great opportunity to show off our facilities and our program as well as compete against some of the finest flight programs in the country."

Among the events that make up SAFECON are practice landing runs, simulation tests and navigation accuracy flights. Portions of the competition expected to provide some of the more entertaining sights are Thursday's power-off landing and a message

drop-off competition Friday.

An awards ceremony is at 11 a.m. Saturday in the CTC Fine Arts Auditorium.

As notable an event as SAFECON is, only a small percentage of the students in CTC's aviation program will actually be competing, said Rick Whitesell, chief flight instructor for the college. Whitesell said many students in CTC's aviation program are not able to commit to the long hours and training schedules necessary to compete in SAFECON.

CTC's program has been in place since 1967 and now offers 14 training planes and three simulators that are utilized by 95 students.

"It's a really good place for what we are doing," said Whitesell, referring to the training facilities at Skylark.

The instructor said the majority of students in the program go on to attend Texas A&M University-Central Texas, where they can earn a bachelors of science in aviation science.

This week's competition events are open to the public. Among the schools who will be competing are Delta State University, Hinds Community College, Louisiana Tech, University of Louisiana at Monroe, LaTourneau University and Texas State Technical College.

Contact Andy Ross at or (254) 501-7468. Follow him on Twitter at KDHeducation.

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