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WMU aviators set for Arizona to Michigan air race

June 8, 2006

BATTLE CREEK, Mich.--Two Western Michigan University women will head west next week for the start of the 2006 Air Race Classic, a women's cross-country event that will take competitors across the center of the nation from Arizona to Michigan.

For the June 20-23 race, Courtney Hedlund, a WMU flight instructor and a December 2004 graduate of the College of Aviation, will share piloting duties with Leslie Treppa, a December 2005 graduate who is also a flight instructor. This is the seventh year WMU has entered a team in the race, which has attracted women aviators from across the nation since the days of Amelia Earhart.

The duo will leave Battle Creek's W.K. Kellogg Airport Monday, June 12, to fly the race course in reverse before arriving in Mesa, Ariz., for pre-race ceremonies. They'll compete against 36 teams in a 2,156-mile race that begins in Mesa Tuesday, June 20. Competitors will fly east over New Mexico, Texas and Louisiana, then head north through Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin before coming to the finish line in Menominee, Mich.

Hedlund, who hails from Lowell, Mich., and Treppa, who is from Macomb Township, Mich., are both new to the race, ending a long tradition that has seen one veteran racer and one novice on each WMU team. Adding to the team's challenge is the fact they'll be flying a new airplane in the race.

"We're a new team and we're flying a new airplane, so we'll have a lot to handle," says Hedlund. "We'll also be flying over terrain that's completely new to us. We'll be facing high elevations and hot temperatures, especially on the first day out."

The high-profile race is billed as "the only all-woman, cross-country event." This year, for the first time, the WMU team will fly a new Cirrus S20 aircraft, part of the college's new training fleet. Over the past year, the college has slowly transitioned to the new state-of-the-art planes that are equipped with technology and cockpit configurations similar to what is found in commercial airliners. Since the Cirrus is faster than the plane used by WMU teams during the past few years, the team will likely face a larger handicap from race officials.

Entrants fly under visual flight rules during daylight hours and all fly fixed-wing aircraft. 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.

Leaving the Mesa airfield at 30-second intervals, competitors will fly at differing air speeds, but at similar altitudes as they race along this year's course. A total of 37 teams, including five from U.S. colleges and universities, will take part in this year's race. The annual event grew out of the Women's Air Derby, which began in 1929. Amelia Earhart was the first president of the 99s, the organization that began the race.

University teams compete for the overall event title as well as for a separate collegiate trophy offered as part of the competition. Last year's WMU team turned in the University's best-ever finish, placing eighth overall and capturing the collegiate trophy.

"I've known about the race for several years and I'm really looking forward to competing against women of all ages and from different aviation backgrounds," says Hedlund. "This will definitely be a new adventure."

Treppa says she's also been familiar with the race for several years. The Air National Guard member is anticipating both the challenge and opportunity.

"I'm really looking forward to meeting all the women competitors and flying over terrain I don't see everyday," Treppa says. "It's cool that it will be all women competing, and I'm sure they'll have a lot of stories to share."

A map of the race route and additional information can be found at www.airraceclassic.org. Hedlund and Treppa expect to file daily reports on their progress once the race begins. The reports will be published online in WMU News at www.wmich.edu/wmu/news.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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