When the forty-first annual all-female Air Race Classic launched from Maryland's Frederick Municipal Airport June 20, about a third of the 51 aircraft participating were fielded by college teams. Student team members demonstrated poise and confidence that belied their ages as they taxied to the starting line, headed north and then west to Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Middle Tennessee State University aerospace students and rookie racers Ella Lindskoug and Jordan Cantrell were in the running for the best-dressed award. Decked out in matching pink T-shirts, they also had embroidered blue polo shirts, pullovers, flight suits, and a stylish flight handbook emblazoned with their Team “White Lightning” logo—designed by Lindskoug and sewn by her mom.
The pair sold the souvenirs to promote their trip and to fund the journey, which generally runs racers between $5,000 and $6,000 for fuel and ground expenses. Entrepreneur Cantrell even purchased a 1999 Cessna 172—which she had already put to use as a flying club machine for fellow students in Tennessee—with the trip in mind. The two expected to fly the Skyhawk between seven and eight hours a day “to make it to Santa Fe on time.”
Fellow MTSU pilot Lindskoug began flying in August and has already earned her complex signoff, commercial, and instrument ratings. “I’ve been around airplanes all of my life and when the Air Race Classic came through town [in 2016] I decided I just had to do it.” Lindskoug said the 2,648-statute-mile journey will likely open new doors—and new scenery—for her. “Being able to go cross-country, it’s like getting a road trip in an airplane.” After completing college, she has her sights set on becoming a career pilot and would like to join the Air National Guard. “All I want to do is fly fighter jets,” she confided.
Thirteen colleges and universities were represented, including teams from Auburn University, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona, Florida; Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Prescott, Arizona; the Florida Institute of Technology; Indiana State University; Kent State University; Lewis University; Liberty University; Middle Tennessee State University; Purdue University; Ohio State University; the University of North Dakota, and Western Michigan University.
Competitors flew a variety of normally aspirated, piston-powered aircraft, and each team raced against its own handicap, which was determined partially by the best speed for that make and model of aircraft, along with other factors exclusive to the individual airplane. The goal is to level the field for all of the competitors so that each team has an equal chance of victory. The Air Race Classic traces its roots to the 1929 Women's Air Derby, in which Amelia Earhart and 19 other female pilots raced from Santa Monica, California, to Cleveland, Ohio, to mark the beginning of women’s air racing in the United States.
Seasoned racer Shelby Satkowiak of Western Michigan University was cool, calm, and collect as she listened at a mandatory weather briefing. Competitors needed to prepare themselves for hot temperatures, high winds, and unexpected weather along the route. On the first day, many teams had to temporarily detour or land while a cold front with nasty thunderstorms snaked its way south from Chicago as the racers headed north. After they turned west, Texas was predicted to greet the women with temperatures topping 100 degrees Fahrenheit and a high-density-altitude environment.
Satkowiak, who raced in 2016, was concerned about headwinds that could affect fuel consumption in the school’s Cirrus SR20. She reminded teammates Lauren Quandt and Maria Walston they would all need to keep an eye on it. To stay powered up and hydrated during the all-day aviation event, the team planned to stock up on energy bars and water—“but not too much water,” chuckled Satkowiak.
The race veteran graduated from the university in June and had a flight instruction job at the school lined up after the competition. Her coaching advice to first-timers Quandt and Walston was to be mindful of the critical first en-route checkpoint. “The first fly-by is stressful because we’re a lot faster than some of the other aircraft,” explained the race veteran, “and we don’t want to run over anybody.”
All three said they were excited to participate in the Air Race Classic because of the personal challenges, the camaraderie, and the chance to meet other like-minded aviators. “I just need some more flight experience,” added Quandt, “and I really want to meet a lot of people with similar interests and desires.”