Jessica Campbell and Victoria Dunbar, two female Indiana State University pilots will take to the skies Tuesday, competing in the 80th Annual Air Race Classic.
This transcontinental air race is open only to women, and Indiana State will have two of their finest behind the controls competing against 34 other teams in this year’s cross country adventure, which will takeoff June 23 from Centennial Airport near Denver.
The 2,359-nautical-mile course tours the nation’s mid-section with stops in Kansas, two in Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Illinois, and Wisconsin, finally ending in Atlantic, Iowa, on or before June 26.
The Indiana State Team, sponsored by the College of Technology and Dixie Chopper Air, features Jessica Campbell, a senior aviation major from Grandview, flying alongside Victoria Dunbar, a faculty member in Indiana State’s department of aviation technology who has prior race experience.
Looking for more speed and better performance, the Indiana State team will be flying a Diamond DA40 owned by Dixie Chopper Air, based at the Putnam County Airport. The 2009 Air Race Classic marks the DA40’s debut in cross country air racing.
Manufactured in Canada, the Diamond is built from composite materials, making the airplane both lighter and stronger. It is powered by a Textron Lycoming IO-360-M1A engine capable of producing high speeds from the surface up to 16,400 feet, giving the Indiana State pilots a wide range of altitudes to choose from throughout the race.
“Neither of us had flown a Diamond aircraft before so we received a check-out flight from the chief pilot at Dixie Chopper, John Layne,” Dunbar said. “The aircraft has the newer technology glass cockpit, equipped with Nexrad weather updates so that should give us an edge over some of the competition.”
The skill of the two pilots impressed their coach.
“The skills and training of those two is easily apparent by just how quickly they have taken to this new aircraft, I’m excited about their chances,” Layne said.
Race routes are approximately 2,400 statute miles in length. Teams are given four days, flying visual flight rules (VFR) in daylight hours, to reach the stopping-point. Each plane is assigned a handicap speed – and the goal is to have the actual ground speed be as far over the handicap speed as possible.
The pilots are thus given the leeway to play the elements, holding out for better weather, winds, etc. The objective is to fly the “perfect” cross-country flight. In this type of race, the official standings cannot be released until the final entrant has crossed the finish line.
“It depends a lot on strategy, the last arrival could actually be the winner,” Dunbar said.
According to Campbell, weather will be by far the largest challenge during the race.
“Since the course is mostly focused in the plain states -- the heart of tornado alley -- there will be several pop-up and severe thunderstorms to contend with throughout the race,” Campbell said. “It will take a lot of planning and strategy to avoid these storms and pick out the best times to takeoff and how many legs to fly in one day.”
Finishing on time is also a concern, Dunbar added.
“Since it is a competition there is a lot of pressure to finish on time,” she said. “You have to make sure that your decision-making process is safe, and not fueled by the desire to win. It is not uncommon in this race for many teams to be disqualified for not finishing on time. When I raced in 2007 there were about 15 teams of 47 that didn't cross the finish line in time.”
For Campbell, participating in the race is an important hands-on learning experience.
“This is a once in a lifetime experience made possible by the College of Technology,” Campbell said. “The competition will allow me to cumulatively use all of the knowledge and experience I have gained in the classroom as well as presenting several new challenges.”
Gaining experience flying a glass cockpit aircraft and mountain flying are advantageous to the young aviator.
“I believe this experience will vastly expand my knowledge and hopefully I will be able to relay this to my flight students after returning from the event,” Campbell, who serves as captain of the ISU Flight Team, said. “I think the competition aspect will really help me feel more comfortable under pressure. Hopefully, this will transfer to other members of the team.”
In addition to gaining experience in flying, both pilots will connect with other women in the industry.
“The ladies that race in this event include airline pilots, flight school managers, aircraft sales managers, WASPS (female pilots from WWII), CEO's of aviation corporations, military pilots, and more,” Dunbar said. “I still keep in touch with several of the ladies I met two summers ago.”
For more information about the Air Race Classic, go to http://www.airraceclassic.org/ .
Indiana State's aviation technology program has been designated as Programs of Regional Distinction as part of the university's Distinctive Programs Initiative. Funded in part by a gift from the Lilly Endowment, the initiative is intended to strengthen programs with national or regional reputations for quality, and build programs that have the potential to achieve that status. For more information about the program or the College of Technology, go to http://www.indstate.edu/tech/ .