June 14, 2000
KALAMAZOO -- Two Western Michigan University women aviators will head for Tucson this week to compete against women from around the nation in a cross-country air race with roots that date back to 1929 and competitors like Amelia Earhart.
Jennifer Richard, a flight instructor in WMU's College of Aviation, and Jo-Elle Warner, a senior aviation student from Warren, Mich., will compete against more than 50 teams from around the nation in the 2000 Air Race Classic that begins June 20 in Tucson and concludes four days and more than 2,000 miles later in Hyannis, Mass. They represent WMU's first-ever entry into the 71-year-old classic air event.
The event began in 1929 as the Women's Air Derby and has become the longest all-woman race in the world. It is sponsored by the Ninety-Nines International Organization of Women Pilots, a group founded for mutual support in 1929 by 99 licensed women pilots. Amelia Earhart was the organization's first president.
"This is a very prestigious race and we have women pilots here in the college who are wonderfully qualified to compete," says Dr. Richard Wright, dean of the College of Aviation. "We decided to sponsor a team this year because this is a wonderful way to let the world know just how good WMU is in the aviation education arena."
The race is made up of two-woman teams of all ages from all over the nation. They'll be piloting fixed-wing aircraft and can fly only during daylight hours under VFR (visual flight rules) conditions. Since many types of planes are allowed to race, each airplane is given a handicap in ground speed and the goal is to earn points by surpassing that speed.
"The goal is to use your skills in flight planning to select an altitude and route that will allow you to get the maximum performance out of your plane," says Richard. "They give you the speed they think your aircraft can maintain and the points you earn are determined by how much you overcome that handicap."
Richard says one of the race's major challenges is the variety of flying conditions competitors encounter. Starting in the West and ending up on the Atlantic coast means pilots could be flying through everything from extreme heat and dust storms to the classic New England "Nor'easter."
"We'll be flying from one extreme to another," Richard notes.
The WMU team is headed for uncharted territory in a number of ways. Not only is it the first WMU team to race in the classic event, but the team will be flying one of the college's sophisticated Mooney Ovations, a plane that has never been used in the race. Their flight in the high-performance plane will establish standards for the use of that aircraft in future races.
"We're in something of a unique situation," says Richard. "Since no one has ever raced a Mooney like ours in the race before, the organizers had to get data from the manufacturer to set our handicap. We're a trial run for both the Mooney and for WMU."
When the team arrives in Hyannis, the group on hand to meet them will include Wright and WMU's David Thomas, assistant to the dean for International Education. The pair will stop to catch the close of the race on their way back from a trip to visit one of the college's international clients.
Richard is a 1998 alumna of WMU and was a star pilot as an undergraduate and a member of the Sky Broncos flight team. She was named the nation's top collegiate pilot during the 1998 National Intercollegiate Flying Association championship when the Sky Broncos captured first place.
Warner has just earned her multi-engine rating as a pilot and is currently working to earn a flight instructor rating.
Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 616 387-8400, email@example.com
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