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WMU aviators poised for start of national air race

June 18, 2007

BATTLE CREEK, Mich.--Two Western Michigan University women are in Oklahoma for the start of the 2007 Air Race Classic, a women's cross-country event that will take competitors across the eastern half of the nation and into Canada for a finish on the Atlantic coast in New Brunswick.

For the June 19-22 race, pilot Jennifer Jakubiec, a WMU flight instructor and an April graduate of the College of Aviation, will share cockpit duties with co-pilot Alison Pierce, also an April graduate, who is now working on her flight instructor license. This is the eighth year WMU has entered a team in the classic race that has attracted women aviators from across the nation since the days of Amelia Earhart.

The duo left Battle Creek's W.K. Kellogg Airport June 13, to fly some of the race course in reverse before arriving in Oklahoma City for pre-race ceremonies. They'll compete against 44 other teams in a 2,500-mile race that begins in Oklahoma City Tuesday, June 19. Over the next four days, competitors will fly to checkpoints in Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky, West Virginia, New York, Vermont and Maine before coming to the finish line in St. John, New Brunswick.

Jakubiec, who hails from Walled Lake, Mich., and Pierce, who is from Burlington, Mich., are both new to the race. They'll be the second WMU team to fly one of the college's new Cirrus S20 aircrafts in the race. Last year's WMU team flew a Cirrus to a fourth-place finish, the best-ever showing for a WMU team in the annual event. This year's pilots have spent a lot of time receiving tips and briefings from members of the 2006 team and earlier WMU contestants, but the new elements in the race will be a challenge.

"We've never flown over mountains or had to mange an international crossing," Jakubiec. says. "But this will really be an exciting new experience. We're going places we've never been and we're going to meet all of the women pilots who compete in this race every year.

The high-profile race is billed as "the only all-woman, cross-country event." 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 course. In this type of race, the official standings are not determined until the final entrant has crossed the finish line--and that last arrival could be the winner.

Pierce and Jakubiec say the team has been practicing the high-speed low approaches that will be used for timing at each of the checkpoints, and they plan to pay special attention to two regular weather briefings they will receive during the race.

"The big challenge, though, is just to get the most out of the airplane, in every situation," Jakubiec says.

Leaving the Oklahoma airfield at 30-second intervals, competitors will fly at differing air speeds, but at similar altitudes as they race along this year's course. A total of 45 teams, including several from other U.S. colleges and universities, will take part in this year's race. The annual event grew out of the Women's Air Derby, which began in 1929. Amelia Earhart was the first president of the 99s, the organization that began the race.

University teams compete for the overall event title as well as for a separate collegiate trophy offered as part of the competition. In 2005, the WMU team captured the collegiate trophy and an eighth-place overall finish.

For Pierce, the goal this year is simple.

"I would just love to win it," she says.

Jakubiec has been flying for three and a half years, and Pierce for two and a half years. Both had their first flight experiences in small aircraft as children flying with family members. For Pierce, the Air Race is a chance to show their skills on a number of levels.

"I'm really excited about the race and the experience of being held responsible for the entire trip and its success," Pierce says.

Race results will not be known until they are announced at the Sunday, June 24, Air Race Classic Awards Banquet, which will be held in St. John.

A map of the race route and additional information can be found at www.airraceclassic.org. Jakubiec and Pierce expect to file daily reports on their progress once the race begins. The reports will be published online in WMU News.

Related article
2007 Air Race Classic 'flight log'
WMU aviators complete 2,500-mile air race

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

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