School's first-time entrants finished 2,400-mile course 18th overall out of nearly 50 teams
Air racing is a major flying challenge. No doubt it's a lot of fun, but it's also a serious business that takes equal servings of confidence, skill, and stamina.
University of North Dakota aviators Katrina Kugler, Yuma, Ariz., and Amy Warbalow, Minocqua, Wis. ― possessing all the required licenses and plenty of vital flying and personal leadership skills ― signed up for this year's Air Race Classic ― a women-only event ― which took place June 18-21. The team safely completed the race in 18th place overall out of nearly 50 entrants.
UND Aviation ― part of the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences ― was confident enough in their aviation know-how to support them in this internationally famous race: UND furnished the self-labeled "wUNDer Women" team with one of its newest Cessna 172 aircraft with all-glass cockpit and fuel credit cards. The two women flew out of Grand Forks June 12 in Cessna 172 N561ND ― emblazoned on the empennage with their big red 10 race number ― a full load of fuel, and confidence built on years of training.
For these two young women ― Kugler, a UND alumna and flight instructor, and Warbalow, a student pilot ― the preparation for the big race event took just about a lifetime.
The UND team also finished 6th overall among 13 collegiate teams. They returned to Grand Forks from Arkansas, where the race ended, Tuesday, June 25. Among the honors they garnered "on the road," was the Collegiate Ester Lowery Stafford Scholarship, the first time this has been awarded. They were also one of only seven teams that flew a "clean" race.
The team noted appreciatively that UND alumna and Wal-Mart corporate pilot Julie Hall met the women at the final stop of the race, Fayetteville, Ark.
Before they left, the two women met regularly with UND's chief of aviation safety, Dana Siewert, to talk about safety concerns, and with aviation weather expert Fred Remer, also a faculty member in UND Aerospace. They met with UND air fleet manager and mountain flying expert Don Dubuque to discuss the special requirements for mountain flying conditions. They also consulted regularly before and during the race with aviation meteorology expert Fred Remer to help them plan their race route while avoiding bad weather. Fred's watchful eye and keen forecasting helped them around a few big storms.
Upon their return, Kugler and Warbalow used their cash winnings from the event to throw a party for all of those who supported them in their endeavor.
About the Air Race Classic
Women's air racing all started in 1929 with the First Women's Air Derby; 20 pilots raced from Santa Monica, Calif., to Cleveland, Ohio, site of the National Air Races, according to the detailed Air Race Classic history of the race posted on its website.
Racing continued through the 1930's and was renewed again after World War II when the All Women's Transcontinental Air Race (AWTAR), better known as the Powder Puff Derby, started. The AWTAR held its 30th, and final, commemorative flight in 1977.
When the AWTAR was discontinued, the Air Race Classic, Ltd., (ARC) stepped in to continue the tradition of transcontinental speed competition for women pilots and staged its premier race. The Air Race Classic was reincorporated in 2002 into the Air Race Classic, Inc., a non-profit organization.
The early air races were the "on to" type, with noon and night control stops, and the contestants more or less stayed together. In that manner, weather and flying conditions were practically the same for each entrant and the race officials could release standings to the media after each day of racing.
The current race routes are approximately 2,400 statute miles in length, and the contestants are usually given four days, flying by visual flight rules ― the race is only run during daylight hours ― to reach the finish.
"Each plane was assigned a handicap speed," said Kugler. "What you want is to achieve a ground speed that's faster than your assigned handicap speed. That means your aircraft has to be in excellent condition because you're flying flat out for most of the race."
In other words, race organizers explained, the objective was to fly the perfect cross-country trip. In this type of race, the official standings weren't released until the final entrant had crossed the finish line ― the last arrival can be the winner. Besides being a great transcontinental race, it's a time for making new friends in the aviation community and honing vital flying skills.
Race teams were made up two or more women pilots flying a single or twin engine airplane that is certified in the normal or utility categories, with normally aspirated engines rated for continuous maximum operation (no limitations) at full takeoff power.
"We had four days to get to our ending point," Warbalow said. "We chose where to stop for the night, and we had eight or nine points to choose from. We also had to stop for gas because at full throttle the Cessna 172 doesn't have the range."
The two UND women had expected no problems but departed well prepared for contingencies. That preparation included the enthusiastic support of their families.
"Katrina's parents flew up to Pasco, Wash., to see us takeoff and my parents flew their own Beechcraft Skipper into Fayetteville to see us at the end," Warbalow said.
Learning with dad
"My first plane ride was when I was only 10 days old and I have been flying with my dad ― an airline captain who flies internationally ― ever since," said Warbalow, who recently completed the requirements to be a certified flight instructor. "I have logged time in a Sting Sport, Piper Warrior, Piper Seminole, Beechcraft Skipper, Piper Aerostar, Cessna 172 and Cessna 150. I wanted to be in airplanes because I have a passion for flying, and I enjoy traveling."
For Warbalow, UND was a natural choice.
"I picked UND because it was relatively close to home, and I'd heard that it's the Harvard of aviation," Warbalow said. "Besides wanting to fly, I wanted to obtain a good education and knew that I could get both the flying skills and the education at UND. I knew that I was going to get my money's worth coming here."
Kugler, also a UND Supervisor of Flight, caught the flying bug when her dad started learning to fly when she was nine years old.
"I went up with him and his instructor a couple of times and thought it was really cool," said Kugler, who enjoys reading and baking when she's not handling an airplane. "So I said, 'I'm going to do this!'"
After spending her high school years flying whenever she could and gaining leadership of the local Civil Air Patrol squadron in her hometown, she aimed even higher: an aviation degree at UND.
All that experience puts these women at the forefront of an aviation program noted for its academic rigor and its excellent safety record. However, as both women remarked, the team is taking nothing for granted.
"We were very careful in selecting the aircraft for this race," said Warbalow, who says besides flying herself, she enjoys teaching aviation.
Juan Miguel Pedraza
University and Public Affairs writer
(Left to right) Flight instructor Katrina Kugler and Aviation student Amy Warbalow.