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WMU flies to best-ever finish in annual air race

June 28, 2004

BATTLE CREEK, Mich.--Western Michigan University pilots Amanda J. Gruden and Sarah Tower finished 10th out of 33 teams entered in the 2004 Air Race Classic, an all-women's event that took competitors on a 2,400-mile journey through eight states.

This year's finish was the highest for a WMU team in five annual Air Race Classic competitions. Gruden and Tower also finished second among four collegiate teams entered. Ohio University finished one place ahead of WMU at ninth, Purdue University was 11th and Kansas State University came in 29th.

"We are extremely happy with our results and how we finished," says Tower, who was competing for the first time and is slated to be the senior member of WMU's two-woman team in 2005. Tower is a 2003 graduate of WMU's aviation flight science program and is a flight instructor at the College of Aviation.

Gruden is lead flight instructor for the college and was competing in her second and final Air Race Classic as a member of the WMU team.

"Sarah is already looking forward to flying in next year's race," says Gruden. "As for me, this is my last race with WMU, and it was sentimental coming in for my last flyby. I will cherish the experiences and memories that I have gained from this race for a lifetime."

Gruden was recently elected to the Air Race Classic board of directors to represent the college teams. She hopes to involve more collegiate teams and help perpetuate the annual race, the early leaders of which included Amelia Earhart and nearly every other pioneer in women's aviation.

This year, for the first time, the WMU team abandoned its previous use of the college's more sophisticated aircraft and opted for a single-engine Cessna 172--the plane routinely used by the college for flight training. The move allowed this year's team to avoid the hefty handicaps placed on previous teams and put the women in a plane they fly daily in their flight instruction duties.

This year's Air Race Classic was somewhat different than previous events in that it began and ended at the same airport, in Wichita, Kan. It began at 8 a.m. June 23 and officially ended June 26, although nearly all of the planes had completed the course and returned to Wichita by June 25. The course took the teams to mandatory check points in Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Missouri and back to Kansas. Of the 33 teams entered, one was forced to scratch just prior to the start and a second failed to complete the race, both due to mechanical problems with their aircraft.

Related story
2004 Air Race Classic 'flight log'

Media contact: Thom Myers, 269 387-8400, thom.myers@wmich.edu

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