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Published October 01 2013

UND still known as 'Sioux' in the skies

GRAND FORKS - While the University of North Dakota’s athletic teams continue to compete without a nickname, there’s still one place UND students go by the handle “Sioux”: the friendly skies.

The university’s flight school still uses Sioux as the call sign for its fleet of about 120 aircraft flown by students and instructors locally and cross-country.

“We’ve tried to retire it a couple of times,” said Bruce Smith, dean of the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences at UND since 2000. “In all cases, the FAA has asked us not to change it, and the reason is for safety.”

A spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration’s Great Lakes Region, Elizabeth Isham Cory, said Monday that if UND ever wants to change the call sign, “They just need to talk to us and get it approved.

“But there’s been no request for change that we know of,” she said.

Cory said the FAA has allowed UND to use the Sioux call sign nationwide since at least 2003, and Smith said it’s been used since before his tenure.

The Sioux call sign is used instead of the more cumbersome “November-Delta” to signal UND aircraft. The call sign also usually includes the last two digits of the tail number. With more than 100 airplanes, UND tries to make sure no two planes with duplicate call signs are flying at the same time, Smith said.

The shorter call sign is not only more convenient but also lets air traffic controllers know the cockpit may contain an inexperienced pilot, Smith said.

“It adds a layer of safety for everyone around them to know that they are student pilots,” he said.

In April 2005, the FAA told UND it could no longer use the call sign outside of local air space, about a 40-mile radius around the flight school, because there was a question at another FAA facility about whether the call sign “might be a bit of a tongue twister,” Cory said at the time, in an article reported by The Associated Press.

“Somebody heard ‘Sioux’ and thought it was ‘two,’ ” she was quoted as saying.

The FAA reversed its decision the following week after a survey was conducted within the FAA and with pilots, and Sioux won out over the November-Delta call sign, The AP reported. UND students were encouraged to use the Sioux call sign as much as possible so there would be no confusion, the article stated.

Smith said it was probably around that time that UND proposed dropping the Sioux call sign, though he couldn’t recall who from the FAA was involved in the discussion.

He said the issue arose again a few years ago when he was co-chairman of the Honoring History and Traditions Task Group, a committee formed to help with UND’s transition away from the “Fighting Sioux” nickname as mandated by the State Board of Higher Education.

The committee unanimously recommended ending a number of uses of the nickname and logo, including on official UND clothing, merchandise and graduation diplomas. A majority of committee members also favored ending certain other uses, including the Sioux Award, the UND Alumni Association’s highest honor. The latter results were passed on as information, not recommendations, to UND President Robert Kelley, the Grand Forks Herald reported in January 2011.

Smith said the Sioux call sign fell into that latter category, but like the Sioux Award, it continues to be used.

“I don’t know if it was as much a decision to keep it as it just, there wasn’t any direction to change it,” he said, adding that the committee’s report “and all of the other parts of that were really just kind of put on the back shelf” when the state Legislature intervened in the nickname issue.

“Certainly if a directive came down to us to change it, there’s processes for doing that,” Smith said. “But, you know, that hasn’t happened.”

Cory said the call sign “just has to be something consistent.”

“It’s a word to us, and it can be substituted for another word,” she said. “If the university wants to suggest that, that’s something that we would be happy to talk to them about.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528