Title

UND alum, award-winning aerobatic pilot Cameron Jaxheimer invited into the big league

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

11-30-2015

Abstract

UND alum, award-winning aerobatic pilot Cameron Jaxheimer invited into the big league

Whatever you think it is, don’t call it “stunt flying.”

For pilots like recent University of North Dakota aviation alumus Cameron Jaxheimer, “stunt” doesn’t begin to tell the story of athleticism, skill, grit and finesse that it takes to competently handle an aerobatic aircraft.

“Our biggest concern is safety,” said Jaxheimer, who finished his aviation degree at the UND John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences in just three years — including all the time he spent as a member first of the UND Flying Team and then of the UND Aerobatics Team — both consistently rated among the best in the nation.

Jaxheimer racked up an impressive set of credentials and awards flying the University’s aerobatic planes — two Super Decathlons — before migrating to an Extra (designed and built in Germany by Walter Extra), owned by a private donor and managed by a UND team of aerobatic pilots.

“I got the travel bug first,” said Jaxheimer, who grew up in the Seattle area.

“Then I took a scenic flight in my home town when I was 12 years old — it was basically ‘downhill’ from there,” said Jaxheimer, who minored in Atmospheric Sciences, also part of the Odegard School. “I took aviation courses while I was in high school — I attended an aviation-focused public school in Seattle, Raisbeck Aviation High School, where UND is listed among the school’s ‘Partners in Learning.’”

Migrating to UND, Jaxheimer majored in commercial aviation while competing in aerobatic competitions around the country as a member of the UND Aerobatic Team.

Big leap

Following a signally successful competition earlier this year, Jaxheimer was named to the eight-member USA Advanced Aerobatic Team. He’ll be competing as a member of that team at the World Advanced Aerobatic Championship in Poland.

“Choosing the Aerobatic Team was a hard choice because I really enjoyed participating in the Flying Team,” Jaxheimer said. “I had faced the fear of aerobatic flying, tried it out a couple of times — I was real nervous — then I got used to it, then I got enthusiastic for it.”

Part of his training over the past couple of years, included attending the Tutima Academy of Aviation Safety, an internationally known aerobatic school.

“That was a big leap because I didn’t have much experience,” said Jaxheimer, who in person is trim and fit like most aerobatic aviators and rather quiet. “But the networking opportunities there were terrific. I met some very good coaches. Eventually met Sean Tucker, a national advanced champion and internationally known airshow pilot, and I went to work there for a summer. I was airshow crew for Sean, including ferrying his ride-plane around, and then I did maintenance jobs on the ground during the air shows.”

In 2012, one of his Tutima instructors, Ben Freelove, asked Jaxheimer if he wanted to compete.

“I did my first competition down there,” Jaxheimer said.

Physically fit

Mike Lents, the UND Aerobatic Team’s coach and chief aerobatic instructor at UND, said Jaxheimer possesses the key self-confidence and disciplined approach to flying that are vital indicators of success in aerobatics.

As a coach I’m looking for someone who is flying the airplane naturally, who can wrap their mind around some of the more three-dimensional aspects of aerobatic performance,” said Lents, himself an award-winning aviator and elite instructor.

“We’re looking for a professional attitude and someone who’s got the skillset to get beyond just flopping around the sky,” Lents said. “Aerobatic flying is more than recreational maneuvers. It takes someone with drive who wants to fly precisely and take it to the next level as opposed to just enjoy it as a recreational sport.”

Jaxheimer emphasizes the athletic nature of competitive aerobatic flying.

“I started going to the gym six times weekly, basically for weight training, which helps muscle growth and then helps develop your bones and tendons to handle the stress (of aerobatic flying),” he said. “Cardio helps as well with breathing properly and having more g-force tolerance. It helps you squeeze the blood back to your brain so that you don’t pass out when doing high-g maneuvers.”

Obviously, aerobatic flying is a lot fun,” Jaxheimer said. “At the same time aerobatics is all about flying safety and improving safety. As a pilot, you aim to fly straight and level every day, but you may end up upside down sometime — so how do you recover?”

Career choice

Aerobatic training, Lents said, delivers skills that any pilot can safely use.

“Always being in a different attitude, for example, upside down, being able to control your airplane through 360 degrees of roll, 360 degrees of pitch improves your safety in case you should ever end up in an unusual attitude,” Lents said.

Jaxheimer says he’s heading into aerobatics as a profession.

“It’s on a trial basis right now,” he said.

Behind him is his aviation degree from UND — world renowned for its astonishing safety record and walls full of competition awards.

“We’ve a got a great supportive culture here to do aerobatics,” Jaxheimer said.

Juan Miguel PedrazaUniversity & Public Affairs writer

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