ISU team flies to second at all-women Air Race Classic

June 30, 2009


Jun. 30--As the small single-engine airplane touched down on a windy Monday at Terre Haute International Airport-Hulman Field, Indiana State University aviation team members Jessica L. Campbell and Victoria Dunbar were quick to pull out their winning trophy.

The two-person ISU team took top collegiate honors and finished second overall in the all-women 2009 Air Race Classic, which spanned a 2,359-nautical-mile course.

"We're pretty excited and couldn't be happier. We won the college [trophy], and that is what we were really aiming for," Campbell said shortly after exiting the plane.

The team also won $3,000 for its finish.

More than 30 teams completed the four-day race, which started June 23 and ended Friday in Atlantic, Iowa. The ISU team flew back Monday from Iowa.

"There are good pilots in this, with three international pilots, so we were up against some pretty darn good ladies who know how to fly," said Tad Foster, dean of ISU's School of Technology, who flew back with Campbell and Dunbar. "The winning team was just 0.933 ahead of us, so just one point separated first and second place."

First place went to Kelly Burris, an attorney from Michigan, and Erin Recke, a flying partner who learned to fly at Western Michigan College.

The race had seven collegiate teams, two from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, which was last year's winner; two teams from the University of Oklahoma; and one team each from Purdue University; Kansas State University; and ISU.

Campbell, 21, is an ISU senior in aviation from Grandview, and is captain of the flight team. Dunbar, 32, is an instructor of aviation technology at ISU.

The team flew a four-seat, newer-technology glass cockpit Diamond DA40 airplane, owned by Dixie Chopper Air, based at the Putnam County Airport. The plane can reach an altitude of 16,400 feet, but because of strong winds, the ISU pilots flew between 1,000, the lowest level allowed, and 3,000 feet above ground level.

"We hit some pretty strong head winds, so we had to stay low. The higher you go, the stronger the head winds," Campbell said. "In one airport, we flew over 2,500 windmills," she said. It was also hot, with the heat index in the 100s for most of the race.

The team started in Denver, Colo., and had to make 10 stops, including in cities such as Sweetwater, Texas; Russellville, Ark.; Sparta, Tenn.; and Racine, Wis., before ending in Iowa.

The two pilots had to make several race decisions such as when to leave a stop, how high to fly, do they fly in front of or behind a high-pressure cell and how do they avoid thunderstorms.

"There is a lot of strategy to the race because you can't just think about the next leg," Dunbar said. "You have to think, 'well, if we go now, what is the weather going to be like when we get there for the next leg and should we try to get to next stop because then we would have a tail wind.' So you can't just think about one step at a time, but what will happen further down the line."

In the race, each team is given a handicap and then tries to fly faster than the handicap. ISU's handicap was 123 knots, so flying at 124 knots in a leg earns one point. The team finished about 15 points above that handicap.

"We didn't have a whole lot of flight time in it, but it is a great airplane to fly," Dunbar said. "Denver was the neatest, because neither of us had ever flown around the mountains and the elevation out there was about 6,000 feet, so there are things that you learn in the classroom about aircraft performance and things you do differently at such a high altitude so this was really the first time we got to put that into use.

"Airplanes need air to perform, so you have to use more runway, they don't climb as well and they don't perform as well," Dunbar said. "When you fly around Indiana you expect the airplane to perform one way, but when you get to Denver, it performs a totally different way."

The team wrote about their experience at

Women's air racing began in 1929, so this year's race was a celebration of 80 years of women's racing. Early racing was a result of "The Ninety-Nines Inc.," an international organization of licensed female pilots, founded in 1929 by 99 licensed women for the mutual support and advancement of aviation.

After World War II, the All Women's Transcontinental Air Race (AWTAR) was held, better known as Powder Puff Derby. Air Race Classic, Ltd. took over air racing in 1977 and was reincorporated in 2002 as Air Race Classic Inc.

Howard Greninger can be reached at (812) 231-4204 or [email protected].