WMU women aviators ready to tackle national cross-country race

contact: Cheryl Roland
| WMU News

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Three Western Michigan University women aviators will join 50 other teams of women pilots Tuesday through Friday, June 20-23, for the 2017 Air Race Classic, a cross-country race that dates back to the days of Amelia Earhart and features top women flyers from around the nation.

Photo of the 2017 WMU Air Race Classic team.

From left: Satkowiak, Walston and Quandt

Pilot Shelby Satkowiak, a recent WMU graduate from Mio, Michigan; co-pilot Lauren Quandt, a senior from Grosse Ile, Michigan; and navigator Maria Walston, a sophomore from Highland, Michigan; are headed to Frederick, Maryland, this week to prepare for the Tuesday start of the race that will conclude four days and more than 2,600 miles later in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Along the way, competitors cross nine states

The trio make up a flight team, sponsored by the WMU College of Aviation, that will compete against both veteran women pilots and other collegiate teams. The 52 teams competing this year include 16 teams from 13 colleges and universities. The race challenges pilots to race against their own best speed in the airplane of their choice.

The renowned women's aviation event dates back to the days of Amelia Earhart and each year features women pilots from across the nation flying fixed-wing aircraft using visual flight rules. Satkowiak, Quandt and Walston will pilot one of the College of Aviation's Cirrus SR-20 aircraft as they compete against other teams flying small aircraft to reach Santa Fe with the fastest time.

The 2,600-mile race follows a zig-zag path from the east coast, through America's heartland and into the west's mountainous terrain. Official race checkpoints along the way include Coshocton, Ohio; Indianapolis, Indiana; Decorah, Iowa; Bemidji, Minnesota; Spencer, Iowa; Abilene, Kansas; Ardmore, Oklahoma; Plainview, Texas; and Edgewood, New Mexico.

About the team

WMU has sponsored teams in 12 previous races since 2000. Satkowiak was a member of the two-person 2016 WMU team. The is the first year of competition for Quandt and Walston and the first year that WMU has fielded a three-person team in the race.

Shelby Satkowiak

Satkowiak, a 2013 graduate of Mio AuSable High School, earned a bachelor's degree in aviation flight science from WMU in April. Her experience over changing terrain in last year's race will be an asset, she says.

She is also extraordinarily aware of the weather challenges they may face, since she served two years ago on the support team for the 2015 WMU team, tracking weather conditions from the Battle Creek campus to provide the team with the latest updates. A similar team is supporting the women in this year's race. But Satkowiak is aware that even close weather monitoring offers no guarantees. Just before the start of last year's race, storms damaged three planes on the ground.

"A microburst hit three planes the day we were taking off," she says. "One of them was ours. As the race was starting, we were looking for maintenance help."

Lauren Quandt

Co-pilot Quandt, a 2013 graduate of Grosse Ile High School earned her private pilot license two years ago and is a double major in aviation flight science and aviation maintenance technology. She's looking forward to getting flight experience outside the Midwest's flat terrain and applying her piloting skills to a new level of flying and get the most from their plane's capability.

"The goal in this event is simply to go faster than the airplane would normally go," she says.

Maria Walston

Navigator Walston, also an aviation flight science major, is a 2016 graduate of the International Academy in White Lake, Michigan. She's been flying for two years and is eager to add the race experience to her resume.

"I'm hoping to race in future years, and this race is an opportunity to see what this is all about," she says. "There's a lot to keep track of and a lot to learn."

Air Race Classic

The Air Race Classic traces its roots to the 1929 Women's Air Derby, in which Amelia Earhart and 19 other daring female pilots raced from Santa Monica, California, to Cleveland, Ohio. That contest, known later as the Powder Puff Derby, marked the beginning of women's air racing in the United States.

Since many types of planes are used to compete in the race, each plane is given an airspeed handicap with the goal 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 course.

Follow the race progress

A map of the race route and additional information can be found at airraceclassic.org. The WMU team will file regular updates on the team Facebook account at facebook.com/wmuairraceclassicteam. Once the race starts, those following the event will be able to trace the WMU team's progress through a link—airraceclassic.org/follow-the-race.htm—that will show exactly where on the course WMU's Team, Classic Racer No. 49, is positioned. 

For more information, contact the team's advisor, Dominic Nicolai, master faculty specialist and WMU Air Race Classic teams.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit wmich.edu/news.