Sunday, June 28, 2009

And the winner is...

Jessica and I got all dressed up for the banquet. We were nervous about the results. We joked about needing to look good for all the pictures of us holding the Collegiate Trophy and the First Place Prize. We were confident that we had raced as smart as we could, and we had no regrets. No matter where we placed, we were happy with our performance.

The Dean of the College of Technology, Tad Foster (our sponsor), had arrived earlier in the day to accompany us to the banquet. We had explained to him that we already knew we were in the top 12. The food was pretty good. The speaker was Linda Hemminger, a local who had just retired from the Air Force. As it turns out, she had given me and Jessica a ride from the airport to the hotel a few days prior. She was the Mobilization Assistant to the Deputy Surgeon General. She gave a very nice speech about the importance of women in aviation. After the dinner she gave both Jessica and I one of her personal coins, a tradition in the military. It's a great honor to receive a coin from military personnel.

The first prizes handed out were the leg prizes. The top four scoring teams for each leg won a cash prize and a small medallion. The teams in the Top 10 were not eligible for leg prizes. We were sure that we had some really good legs, so as long as we weren't called we would know we were in the Top 10. We waited nervously as they called the teams up. They were being called in the order of their Classic number. Being Classic 32, we had baited breath for a few moments...they skipped over our number! We looked at each other and grinned. We knew we'd made it to at least the Top 10.

Next was the Collegiate Trophy. This was crucial. It meant bragging rights for an entire year. The trophy travels to the winning school. Embry Riddle Daytona had won it last year and had to relinquish it for the banquet. Marilyn, the President of the Race committee, asked all of the collegiate teams to stand. All seven teams received a round of applause from the audience. She started with fourth place. "Fourth place goes to Purdue." Next was third. Jessica and I nervously made eye contact. "Third place goes to Embry Riddle Daytona." My heart started to beat faster. I glanced at Tad and he looked giddy. "Second place goes to...Embry Riddle Prescott." Now I felt like anyone looking at me would see my heart beating visibly in my chest. We won! "And first place goes to Indiana State University! Jessica Campbell and Victoria Dunbar!" We flashed huge grins at each other then quickly walked up to the stage to receive the trophy, all amid applause from the audience. How cool was this!?! I'm so proud of us! We flew an awesome race and it showed in the results. Go ISU! We had no problem smiling for the cameras.

Next came the Top 10 teams. We knew that we had done better than both of the Riddles, who were both in the Top 10. Once both of them had been called up, it could be anytime. "In tenth, Classic 23 - Embry Riddle Daytona." "In ninth, Classic 9. In eighth, Classic 20. In seventh, Classic 31." Classic 31 was a team from Minnesota. They were not a collegiate team, but the pilot was the 18 year old who had just graduated from high school. Way to go! "In sixth, Classic 43 - Embry Riddle Prescott." Jessica and I knew we could be called next. I looked at Tad. he had a huge grin on his face. "Top 5!" "In fifth, Classic 17." My heart started beating faster. "In fourth, Classic 12." "In third, Classic 2." Holy crap, we were either first or second! "In second, Classic 32" That's us! We got second place! How exciting. We walked up to the stage to receive our medallions amidst applause and flashing cameras. We both had perma-grins the rest of the night.

I'll blog more later but I need to get to bed because tomorrow we are flying home. I miss my boys!

Us with the Collegiate Trophy and our second place medallions.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

And we got the call!

We are at least in the top 12! We got the call late Friday night. We were super excited to find out. We won't know our final standing until the banquet on Sunday, but we can't be any lower than 12. We also know that both Embry Riddle schools got their plane inspected. So the top three collegiate teams are Indiana State, Embry Riddle Prescott, and Embry Riddle Daytona.

I thought it would be appropriate to thank some of the people that helped us be a part of the Air Race Classic. First, the College of Technology, specifically Dean Foster, who found the money to sponsor us. I'd also like to thank all of the aviation faculty for cheering us on during the last week. You can read more at

We would also like to thank John Layne and Dixie Chopper Air for reducing the rental rate for the Diamond DA-40 that we flew during the race. You can read more about Dixie Chopper at If you are interested in Diamond aircraft you can read more at

We appreciate Andy Bradley taking the time to come up with the coolest decals for our airplane. She's the sexiest plane on the line.

We also had the support of our family and friends, which was awesome. Thanks for all the calls, emails, texts, and facebook posts. It's nice knowing that so many people at home are cheering us on.

Check out the blog on Sunday night to find out how we placed!

Final leg to Atlantic, Iowa

There were 22 teams that stayed in Racine. Two teams had made it to Iowa on Thursday, seven more had stayed in Jacksonville. We were all parked all over the field, so there was no way to actually take off in order. We all just fired up when we were ready and taxied out to the active. Jessica and I were about the 10th airplane to takeoff. There was a very slow moving thunderstorm just west of Atlantic. It seemed to die as it approached the Iowa border. We figured it wouldn't be a problem getting into Atlantic.

Look closely - our groundspeed was reading 159 knots for a short period!

The forecast winds were almost a direct tailwind at about 15 knots. Of course, that's not exactly what we were getting. It was more like a 4-5 knot tailwind and a 10 knot crosswind. We experimented with a few altitudes. We climbed as high as 3500feet, but eventually figured that 2700 was best for us. We passed a few of the slower aircraft. They were all over the place. Some were higher, some were lower. The closer we got to Iowa the more the winds shifted to the south, becoming more of a crosswind and less tailwind. We were just happy to finally have a leg with no headwind.

There was a bit of a bottleneck in Atlantic by the time we arrived. A few aircraft had landed, but there was one entering the pattern, one doing a fly-by, us, and about 2 more behind us. It was time to sit up and pay attention. Another issue was the lack of taxiways. Whoever landed would either have to hang out at the end of the runway and wait for oters to land, or those in the air would have to wait for them to taxiback. The fly-by was over runway 20. Jessica set her camera to film the fly-by. We were both excited and sad to do the last fly-by...but I think we were both ready to finish the race.

We intended on landing on 20 as well. The winds were calm, so the landing runway didn't matter. We realized that the pattern was becoming a Charlie-foxtrot, so we decided to land on runway 12. We would be out of the way of the fly-by traffic, and we wouldn't have to worry about doing a taxi-back because there was one taxiway that led off the departure end of runway 12 to the ramp. We announced our intentions and several other planes followed suit.

The ramp was only big enough for about 5 airplanes so they were parking us in the grass. Another first for Jessica. We followed a John Deere tractor to our parking spot and shut down for the last time of the race.

We made it! We finished on time, and we were happy with our decisions. No regrets here. Now it was out of our hands. The judges and timers would look at everyone's times. If we were lucky enough to be in the top 12 we would get a call Friday night...

We made it!

Leg #8 to Racine, Wisconsin

Originally the plan was to stay in Jacksonville. We were tired and hot after the 2nd leg of the day. But we are both very competitive and after realizing that the weather would be good in the morning from Racine to Atlantic, we sucked it up and got strapped back into the plane for the 3rd leg of the day.

As expected, we had a light headwind. We were anywhere from 2000 to 2500 MSL. It was odd, but the winds lower than 2000 were stronger, and then the winds at 3000 were stronger. Thus our altitude. We just skimmed the perimeter of Peoria's Class Charlie airspace. We were watching one of the other teams as we approached Peoria. They were well below us...the TCAS showed them at about 300 ft AGL...over the town of Peoria...I guess they thought the winds were worth it.

On this leg we did have a slight concern about some thunderstorm activity that was in Iowa and slowly heading towards Illinois. According to the radar, it was moving so slowly that we wouldn't have to worry too much. It's one of those things that could pick up speed at any time, however, so I wouldn't be comfortable until we were well out of the storm's path.

By the time we reached Chicago we knew we didn't have to worry about the weather anymore. We did have to speak to a Class D to get permission to fly through their airspace. We didn't want to climb to avoid it and we didn't want to deviate around it. There is always the risk that a controller could vector us, so we normally didn't speak to controllers unless we needed to. This controller must have spoken to several race aircraft already because he didn't ask any questions about the "Classic 32" call sign, he just granted us permission.
Five mile final to Racine

At this point Jessica was excited because we could see Lake Michigan now. She'd seen the lake years ago but didn't remember it too well, so it was like the first time for her. It was a hazy day, so we really couldn't make out water, more just where the land ended. As we got within 5 miles of Racine we could make out the lake really well. It is like looking out over the ocean, you can't see land on the other side. Very impressive. I took a few shots before the fly-by. We then intentionally extended our upwind so we could take some pictures of the lake. The sun was just starting to get lower in the horizon and the sun was blinding as it shimmered on the lake.

Racine is an uncontrolled field, but somone on the field was directing Air Race traffic over the frequency as if it were a controlled field. It was a very well organized stop. We were greeted by rampers who parked us, and the FBO Manager. We were told what hotel everyone was staying at, and that transportation to the hotel was ready to take us as soon as we were ready. Very nice. It was one of our longest flying days, but we were actually at the hotel earlier than most of the previous days. We had time to get dinner, do some blogging, and get to bed at a descent hour. 5 AM would be here quick.

Lake Michigan on the downwind at Racine, Wisconsin

Friday, June 26, 2009

Leg #7 to Jacksonville, Illinois

Finally, some countryside we recognize! On the way to Jacksonville we flew over a lot of airports that I've been into with students. It was a comfortable feeling to fly in familiar teritory. The 315 nautical mile flight took us through the hills of Tennessee and Kentucky, just south of Evansville, and then finally Jacksonville, just west of Springfield. It was hot a bumpy. We were flying lower than several of the slower aircraft that we passed. It seemed that that's where we were getting the best groundspeed.

There was only one thing to worry about on this flight...the prison 3 miles south of Jacksonville. It was directly in our flight path. We were briefed that the guards would actually shoot at low flying aircraft, and that we should either avoid flying directly over the prison or be at least 2000 feet. Well, we didn't want to climb 500 feet right before descending for our flyby, but we also didn't want to deviate. We concluded that it was ridiculous for a prison on a 3 miles final to an airport to be too concerned with planes buzzing overhead. We made a miniscule heading deviation to just skim the corner of the prison yard. No bullet holes please!

The fly-by went great. We landed and taxied up to the pump. A couple of the locals helped pull us into a tie-down spot and we went inside for some air conditioning, lunch, and lots of water. We had expected to stay the night here but after a check of the weather we decided to fly another leg to Racine, Wisconsin. It looked like we'd have really good tailwinds the following morning to Atlantic, Iowa, our final leg.
On final approach into Jacksonville, Illinois

Leg #6 to Sparta, Tennessee

We decided to stay overnight in Grenada because it looked like we'd have a pretty good tailwind leaving the next morning. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. It wasn't a bad headwind, but a headwind none the less. And like always, the higher we got the stronger the winds. It was another flight down low. At least it wasn't blazing hot...yet. Pretty much everywhere we went the temps were in the upper 90's. The diamond has a canopy with great visibility, but there is nothing to block the sun. Both Jessica and I have what we call our "diamond tan lines."

Sparta is in the vicinity of Nashville. Lots of hills with tall radio towers on them that we had to keep a look out for. This leg was 248 nautical miles. We took off from Grenada at about 6:45, making it to Sparta by 9 AM. We were slightly concerned about the weather forecast for Jacksonville. The forecast had thunderstorms in the vicinity by early afternoon. We knew we couldn't spend much time on the ground in Sparta. We got our fuel, grabbed a few bottles of water, then headed off for Jacksonville, Illinois.

Parked on the ramp at Sparta

Legs 4 and 5

I'm combining legs 4 and 5 because we never landed at the fourth airport. I'll explain. From Lufkin to the fourth timing line, Russellville, Arkansas, it was a distance of 255 nautical miles. With the very slight headwind we were getting, it took us just shy of 2 hours to get there. The next leg to Grenada, Misissippi was our shortest leg at 184 nautical miles. With the expected headwind, that leg would only be about 1.5 hours.

At Lufkin, we topped of on fuel. We hadn't decided for sure if we were going to land at Russellville or not, but we wanted the option of flying the timing line there and then immediately proceeding to Grenada. Turns out that's exactly what we decided to do.

Lufkin was a short stop, just long enough to get fuel and check weather. The weather showed that we would have headwinds at all altitudes, but the lower the better. It also showed that there was no benefit to waiting. The winds were either not going to change or potentially get worse. That told us is was time to get going.

It was heating up. We knew we were in for another hot flight. I was sitting in the right seat and the sun was beating down on me as we flew north to Russellville. By the end of the day I had tan lines from my shirt and a hairband I had on my wrist.

Enroute, we talked about whether to land at Russellville or not. We rechecked the weather and could see that it would be beneficial to just fly-by. We both felt that we could handle a 3 hour and 30 minute flight if it would help our chances. So we did it.

The fly-by at Russellville was our one and only chance to do what they call a "fly-by to continue". Usually we do a fly-by to land. Which means after we do the fly-by we enter the pattern and land. This time, we did our high-speed, low altitude fly-by, then climbed back up to our cruising altitude enroute to Grenada.

I would have liked to have seen the folks at Russellville, but it was best for our race to continue. When we landed at Grenada we heard that they were serving Ruby Tuesday back at Russellville! Dang it - that would have been the best food so far! Oh, well. The race goes on.

The Grenada airport is just south of a huge, man-made lake. We later found out that the corp of engineers uses it for flood control, but that the town of Grenada loved it for its recreational uses. They even have some profesional fishing competitions every year.

Our plan was to continue to Sparta after refueling at Grenada. Upon a closer review of the weather, it looked like we could possibly have a much desired tailwind the next morning. But what would the winds be to Jacksonville? And what about that cold front that was supposed to move through our path tomorrow? We looked at all the variables and decided that we would stay the night at Grenada. It turned out to be a popular decision. We had about 12 planes stay the night.

It was dinnertime by the time we got to the hotel. We walked to a nearby local restaurant and had our first real meal of the day. By the time we got back to the hotel room all we wanted to do was sleep. It had been a long hot day that started at 5 AM, Tomorrow morning would be another 5 AM start. That's ok. I'm helping Jessica train for the airline life.
Lake Grenada with the morning sun glint off the surface.