Classic air race with WMU aviators to travel through Kalamazoo

contact: Cheryl Roland
| WMU News
Photo of WMU Air Race team.

From left: Sara Karsten and Katherine Vena

KALAMAZOO, Mich.— Two Western Michigan University women aviators will join more than 50 other teams of women pilots June 22-25 for the 2015 Air Race Classic, an 86-year-old, cross-country race that this year will travel through Kalamazoo.

Sara Karsten of Rogers City and Katherine Vena of Plymouth will compete in the 2015 Air Race Classic that will see aviators travel a course from Fredericksburg, Virginia, to Fairhope, Alabama. The race is more than 2,100 nautical miles long and will challenge pilots to race against their own best speed in the airplane of their choice.

Along the zigzag route, racers will stop or do flybys at checkpoints in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Missouri and Tennessee. The 10 stops on this year's race include two in Michigan—the Three Rivers Municipal Dr. Haines Airport and the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport. The WMU team predicts most of the race's 53 competitive teams will make it through the Michigan checkpoints on Tuesday, June 23.

The renowned women's aviation event dates back to the days of Amelia Earhart and each year features women pilots from across the nation flying fixed-wing aircraft using visual flight rules. Karsten and Vena will pilot one of the College of Aviation's Cirrus SR-20 aircraft as they compete against other teams flying small aircraft to reach Fairhope with the fastest time. Of the 53 teams and 100-plus women of all ages competing, 17 teams this year represent 14 aviation colleges around the nation.

Photo of Sara Karsten.


About the team

This is the second year of Air Race Classic competition for the WMU team pilot Karsten. She earned a bachelor's degree in aviation flight science in 2011 and is now working on a second bachelor's degree in aviation maintenance technology. She also is a flight instructor at the college. Karsten is a 2005 graduate of Onaway High School.

"It's going to challenge me not only as a pilot, but also as an instructor," Karsten says of the race. "I also get to be a student myself, because I'm pretty sure you could run this thing 100 times and never fly the same race twice."

Photo of Katherine Vena.


Vena, the WMU team's co-pilot, is flying in her first Air Race Classic. She is beginning her third year at WMU with a major in aviation flight science. She is currently working on her certification to become a multi-engine commercial pilot. Vena is a 2013 graduate of Salem High School.

"It's going to be an amazing challenge," Vena says. "We've been practicing flybys and different routes that we wouldn't normally do here at Western."

Air Race Classic

The Air Race Classic, part of a long tradition of women's air races, dates back to 1929. Air racing became popular in the 1920s, but women pilots were forbidden to race against men, so they started their own race.

The high-profile race is billed as "the only all-woman, cross-country event." Since many types of planes are used to compete in the race, each plane is given a handicap in ground speed, and the goal is to have the actual ground speed be as far over the handicap speed as possible. The pilots have the leeway to play the elements by holding out and timing their travel for better weather or wind conditions, for instance. The objective is to fly the "perfect" cross-country course. In this type of race, the official standings are not released until the final entrant has crossed the finish line—and that last arrival could be the winner.

Follow the race progress

A map of the race route and additional information can be found at Vena and Karsten expect to file regular updates on their team Facebook and Twitter accounts.

The Facebook page also features a video of the team talking about the history and traditions of the race. Once the race starts, those following the event will be able to trace the WMU team's progress through a TrackLeader link——that will show exactly where on the course WMU's Team No. 50 is positioned. 

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