WMU News

2005 Air Race Classic 'flight log'

June 22, 2005

by Erica Ebenhoeh and Sarah Tower

SHREVEPORT, La.--We stayed overnight in Bartlesville, Okla., along with 30 other race teams. Needless to say, this morning was a bit of a problem with everyone trying to leave at the same time. We all gathered outside a hangar to discuss exactly how to depart the airport.

Race teams took off and circle around to conduct their flybys in the order in which they landed the night before. So the first plane to arrive in Bartlesville was the first one out. We were 18th to arrive so we waited for an appropriate time to start our engine. We ran our checklist.

I turned the ignition key, and we heard a loud grinding noise. I immediately released the ignition key, my jaw dropped, and my heart sunk deep into my stomach.

We secured the airplane and ran to the local mechanic, Don Driskill. He dropped everything he was doing, rushed over and inspected the engine. Our starter motor was damaged. He assured me that it wasn't my fault; a part had failed. We still felt terrible.

We contacted our maintenance crew at WMU, and they consulted with Driskill. The starter needed to be replaced, but Driskill didn't have one in stock. The nearest place to obtain a replacement was 40 minutes south in Tulsa, Okla. Our maintenance crew offered to fly down for the repair, but Driskill said it would be no problem to get it taken care of for us.

Don Driskill was amazing. He drove to Tulsa for the parts and had us all fixed up and ready to go for a 2 p.m. departure.

The flight from Oklahoma to Shreveport was uneventful. We flew low to the ground to avoid a headwind. At one point our outside air temperature gauge read 93 degrees Fahrenheit. No amount of venting in the cockpit would cool us down. We drank lots of water and were grateful when Shreveport came in sight.

Because the winds are more favorable for our north-bound flight tomorrow to Walnut Ridge, Ark., many race planes are staying overnight in Shreveport. I don't think our late departure from Bartlesville will be detrimental. We should still be in good standing for the race.

I have more information about the plane that ditched on a highway during the first day of the race. They did not run out of fuel, as we were previously told, but they knew they were getting low and didn't think they could make it safely into Winona. So they decided to land on a state highway while they still had fuel. The highway patrol cleared the area and called for 20 gallons of fuel to be delivered. The plane departed and made it to Winona. They are still in the race and able to compete.

Thank you everyone for your support, and a big thanks to WMU maintenance and flight operations for their help with today's problem.

--Sarah Tower

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

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