SIU Aerobatic Team Receives Award

The defending International Aerobatic Club (IAC) Collegiate National Champion Southern Illinois University Aerobatic Team received team and individual trophies at a luncheon held in its honor at EAA headquarters in Oshkosh on January 20. With a combined score of 84.64 percent, SIU earned the 2002 title, edging out Embry Riddle Aeronautical University-Prescott and ERAU-Daytona (82.27).


(right) Team trophy sponsor Klein Tools, represented by Stephen Ratkovitch (left) with the champion SIU team (l to r), Matt Boehm, Caleb Robinson, and Sean Roarty. Photo by LeeAnn Abrams.

Flanked by team members Caleb Robinson and Sean Roarty, SIU Caption Matt Boehm accepted the team award from EAA President Tom Poberezny, and first-place individual honors. All are products of SIU’s Aviation Technician school, a bachelor’s degree program for airframe and powerplant technicians.


Individual trophy sponsor American Champion Aircraft, represented by company President Jerry Mehlhaff, is pictured with individual champion Matt Boehm. Photo by LeeAnn Abrams.

“It felt pretty good to accomplish what so few people have done-win the overall title,” said Boehm, who competed in five events in 2002 (Sportsman category). Boehm, who got his first airplane ride in his grandfather’s Cessna 150 at the age of five, received his first aerobatic ride from last year’s overall champion Ty Englehardt. He was hooked immediately.

Boehm hopes to have a career in corporate aviation and, with his A&P certification, be a flying mechanic. “I owe a lot to my dad and to E. Allan Englehardt (Ty’s father, Chairman of the University Programs Committee) and the sponsors for making it all possible,” he said.

Robinson, whose father, Ron, was team sponsor, also received his first airplane ride as a child with his grandfather, a World War II P-38 pilot. Grandpa supported his training, which has reached the commercial rating. Robinson only began aerobatic flying this past summer after a ride with Ty Englehardt.

Robinson foresees an aviation career. “Anything to do with airplanes would be great,” he said. He will graduate in about a year and a half and should have his A&P certificate by the end of the summer.

When Roarty was about seven, he flew with his stepfather in New Haven, Connecticut. At age 14 he first soloed in a glider, then airplane-soloed at age 16. Roarty got his private ticket during sophomore year in college.


He recalled practice sessions with the team this past summer: “We had about a case of (bottled) water, and went through about 40 gallons of gas,” he said of flying in the aerobatic box at Pinckneyville, Illinois in 100-degree heat. “It was great!” Roarty graduated in 2000 and currently works as an aircraft mechanic at Lake in the Hills (3CK) Airport near Chicago, although he hopes to fly professionally someday.

EAA President Tom Poberezny presented the individual and team first place trophies to the Southern Illinois University team for the IAC Collegiate Aerobatic Championships on January 20. To Tom's right are individual champion Matt Boehm and teammates Caleb Robinson and Sean Roarty. Photo by LeeAnn Abrams.

EAA President Tom Poberezny, speaking from personal experience of aerobatic competition, advised the young pilots, “It’s nice to win the championship, but it’s more important to compete and get better on each successive flight. You’ll not only become more proficient pilots, but you’ll carry that way of doing things forward into whatever career you choose in the future.”

Team award sponsor Klein Tools was represented by Stephen Ratkovitch, aviation channel sales manager. “We’re really proud to be a part of the program,” he said. “Especially for young people, giving the on-going support to them and to general aviation. (Company president) Rick Klein is very committed to general aviation and to young people.”

Individual award sponsor American Champion Aircraft Corporation was represented by President Jerry Mehlhaff. “We’re real pleased to be involved in the program, which we see as important to the future of sport aerobatic flight.” said the manufacturer of the aerobatic training plane—the Super Decathlon—used by the team. “Pilot safety and proficiency are enhanced through aerobatic flying.”

Also present was Paul D. Sarvela, Ph.D., interim dean of Southern Illinois University's College of Applied Sciences and Arts, which includes Aviation Technology (A&P) and Flight (pilot course). Sarvala is very excited about the aviation program and what the aerobatic team has accomplished. “It's a great program,” he said, and he's using it in his attempts to launch a “cross-discipline” academic effort with SIU's college of engineering. Aerobatics is also drawing favorable attention to the program, which is helping the effort to get a “transportation facility at the airport, so all our transportation programs—aviation and automotive—will be under one roof.”

E. Allan Englehardt said both the University of North Dakota and Westminster College, Utah have expressed strong interest in competing in the IAC Collegiate National Championships.