About 600 people are expected to swoop into Janesville next month for a national intercollegiate flight competition hosted by UW-Madison at the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport.
Thirty colleges from across the country will bring more than 100 small aircraft to the Safety and Flight Evaluation Competition, or SAFECON, from May 13 to 18.
The event marks the first time UW-Madison has hosted the annual flight competition.
Andrew Ross, chief judge of the competition, said members of the National Intercollegiate Flying Association chose UW-Madison to host this year’s event over Ohio State University and Indiana State University.
Ross said Janesville’s airport is “perfectly situated” for the contest.
He said 300 to 350 competitors will operate mostly two-and four-seater aircraft. Aviators primarily will spend their time at the Janesville airport during the week, but they will have written tests and closing ceremonies in Madison.
All flights will take place in Janesville. Ross said the Dane County Regional Airport was not ideal because of its frequent commercial flights.
Among the competitions will be navigation planning tests, a message-dropping event and two landing events, such as a power-off test in which pilots glide onto the runway, Ross said.
A team of about 75 judges—including working airline pilots—will crown the national champion school. Ross said many of the aviators eventually will become commercial, corporate or cargo pilots or join the military.
“The cool thing is, during competition, you can walk the tarmac and you can see all these schools represented from their paint jobs and emblems. ... It’s really kind of a big meeting of all of these schools,” Ross said.
Each team advanced from a regional competition. Among the universities competing are UW-Madison, Auburn, Ohio State, Kansas State, Kent State, Minnesota State, Oklahoma State, Southern Illinois, Western Michigan, Purdue, United States Air Force Academy and United States Naval Academy.
The Janesville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau has given the airport a $7,000 grant through the state Department of Tourism for facility improvements, such as low-profile barricades for additional aircraft tie-down points. The Rock County Board will vote to accept the grant Thursday night.
Christine Rebout, the bureau’s executive director, said the week-long event is expected to generate about $200,000 in economic impact.
Visit Madison and UW-Madison spearheaded the bid about a year ago, Rebout said.
Airport Manager Greg Cullen said the airport measures its operations by yearly takeoffs and landings. It generally clocks about 36,000 operations in a year but anticipates 4,000 to 5,000 operations during the competition alone, he said.
“When you have more activity, you have more aviation fuel sales, you have more people using local restaurants and sleeping in local hotels,” he said. “So it’s a good thing for the local economy. ... We’re just crossing our fingers for good weather all week.”
The competition arrives about six months after the Rock County Board in November formed the standalone Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport Board. The board has three county board members and six community members and oversees airport-related activities.