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Two WMU women aviators compete in classic air race

June 18, 2001

KALAMAZOO -- Two Western Michigan University women aviators will head for San Diego this week to compete against some of the nation's top women pilots in a cross-country air race with roots that date back to 1929 and competitors that included Amelia Earhart.

Jo-Elle Warner, a flight instructor in WMU's College of Aviation, and Michelle Homister, an April aviation graduate from Dowling, Mich., will compete against more than 50 teams from around the nation in the 2001 Air Race Classic that begins June 26 in San Diego and concludes four days and more than 2,200 miles later at Sporty's Airport in Batavia, Ohio. They represent WMU's second entry into the 72-year-old classic air event. Warner was part of a two-woman team that competed last year.

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 sponsored a team that performed well last year and decided at the conclusion of that race to send a team to compete again this year. This time around we have two corporate sponsors who are playing a key role in supporting this initiative."

Corporate sponsors are Duncan Aviation, an aircraft service provider with headquarters in Lincoln, Neb., and a facility in Battle Creek; and Aviall Inc., a Dallas-based aircraft parts distributor.

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 for team members to use their skills in flight planning to select an altitude and route that will allow them to get the maximum performance out of the plane. Organizers give each team the speed they think the team's aircraft can maintain and points are determined by how much the team overcomes that handicap.

The WMU team will be flying one of the college's sophisticated Mooney Ovations, a plane that was first used in the race last year by WMU's team. That flight in the high-performance plane established standards for the use of that aircraft in future races.

Warner is a 2000 alumna of WMU and a Warren, Mich., native. She works as a flight instructor in WMU's aviation program.

Homister is a 2001 WMU alumna who recently earned certification as a flight instructor.

En route to the Air Race Classic starting point, the pair will stop in Phoenix for a WMU alumni gathering Thursday, June 21, at which they will make a presentation.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 616 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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