WMU News

WMU aviators take off for classic national race

June 10, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- Two Western Michigan University women will leave W.K. Kellogg Airport in Battle Creek, Mich., Monday, June 16, to head for the start of the 2003 Air Race Classic, an all woman cross-country event that will take competitors from Pratt, Kan., to Manteo, N.C.

Amanda J. Gruden, lead flight instructor for WMU's College of Aviation, and Michelle Glisan, an April 2003 graduate of the University's aviation flight science program, will share piloting duties for the June 21-24 race that has attracted women aviators from across the nation since the days of Amelia Earhart.

Glisan, a member of WMU's 2002 competitive team, is from Byron, Ill., and is currently working as an intern in Chicago for Atlantic Coast Airlines. Gruden, a 2000 graduate of WMU, is a native of Milan, Mich.

The race, nearly 2,200 miles in length, will conclude this year with a celebration of the centennial of flight, as competitors complete a final fly-by of the Kitty Hawk, N.C., site where the Wright brothers' first flight took place. Following the fly-by, competing pilots will head for the finish line at a nearby airport. The event's concluding banquet June 26 will take place at the Wright Brothers National Memorial at Kitty Hawk.

This is the fourth consecutive year WMU aviators have entered the event that first was held in 1929 as the Women's Air Derby. Amelia Earhart was the first president of the 99s, the organization that began the race. The event is made up of two-person teams from around the nation. This year, 38 teams have registered to compete in the event. Three university teams are among those competing for the overall event title as well as for a separate collegiate trophy offered as part of the competition.

The WMU team this year will switch from its past use of a sophisticated single-engine Mooney Ovation aircraft to a twin-engine Piper Seminole, which Gruden says is more in keeping with the type of plane flown by other competitors. It also, she notes, will help over the race's mountainous terrain and should result in a more favorable handicap assignment for the team.

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. 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.

Teams will race their planes from Pratt to Grand Island, Neb.; then on to Albert Lea, Minn; Menominee, Mich.; Peru, Ill.; Dayton, Ohio; Altoona, Penn.; and Danville, Va. On the final day, June 24, competitors will fly over Kitty Hawk before landing at nearby Manteo, N.C.

Gruden says the WMU team has been preparing for the race for about three months and has already flown the Great Lakes portions of the race. The pair intends to check out the Nebraska terrain when they are enroute to the Pratt, Kan., starting line. That leaves the mountainous terrain over Pennsylvania as the only unfamiliar territory for them.

"Being familiar with the Great Lakes area should give us somewhat of an advantage," Gruden says.

This year, the WMU team is being sponsored by the Kellogg Co. of Battle Creek; Piper Aircraft Inc., the maker of the plane the team will fly; Northern Air, the exclusive Piper dealer for Michigan and parts of Ohio and Wisconsin; and by Mayday Avionics, a Grand Rapids, Mich., avionics sales and services company.

A map of the race route is available online at <www.airraceclassic.org/pages/4/>.

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

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