Storied all-women Air Race Classic takes off from Grand Forks
UND Aerospace welcomes 42 airplanes, 100 competitors to North Dakota
For the first time in its 46-year history, the all-women annual Air Race Classic will begin its takeoff from the Grand Forks International Airport, an event hosted by UND’s John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences that will include a UND racing team.
The 2,684-statute-mile competition across 12 states begins at 8 a.m. Tuesday, June 20, with 42 teams and 100 racers taking off from the Grand Forks airport. The competition ends Friday, June 23, at the Miami Homestead General Aviation Airport in Homestead, Fla.
But before the racers leave Grand Forks on their way to Florida, they will be treated to a variety of events designed to make the most of their North Dakota experience. Beth Bjerke, aviation professor and associate dean, and Liz Mislan, a UND aviation graduate and former ARC racer, are co-chairs of the event.
“We have been preparing to host this start for over 5 years, so we are going to make it one for the racers to remember!” Bjerke said. “We realize that for many racers this will be their first time in the state of North Dakota, so we have been busy planning some very unique North Dakotan/Midwestern themed events for the start.”
In 2017, the ARC began discussions with UND about hosting the race start, which led to a Grand Forks start being scheduled for 2020. However, when the COVID pandemic shut down UND and the event, it was later rescheduled for 2023.
“In a way, I’m glad it’s happening now because the aviation industry is stronger,” Bjerke said. “We have been fortunate to secure national corporate sponsors, as well as local Grand Forks organizations. The support for the race to start in Grand Forks has been tremendous.”
Years in the making
Bjerke emphasized the enormous logistics involved in welcoming more than 40 aircraft to the Grand Forks International Airport and UND’s aviation training facilities at the airport.
“We are fortunate to have an amazing ARC Start Committee with Courtney Olson, Heather Schuler, Paula Bruse, Angie Panzer and Debbie Landeis, who have been planning and preparing for this event for years, as well as a large number of student and staff volunteers ready and eager to welcome the racers to UND and the state of North Dakota.”
Bjerke also noted that UND is welcoming 17 collegiate teams to the state and will provide North Dakota hospitality, even though the schools are competing in the same arena.
Members of UND’s 2023 ARC team are: pilot Grace Heron, a senior from Tampa, Fla., majoring in aviation safety, commercial aviation and sociology; co-pilot Sadie Blace, a sophomore from Mankato, Minn., majoring in commercial aviation and aviation management; navigator Tracy Mitchell, a sophomore from Billings, Mont., majoring in commercial aviation and unmanned aircraft systems; and ground coordinator Ashley Almquist, a freshman from Bay Village, Ohio, majoring in commercial aviation and aviation safety.
Besides UND, the other 17 college and university teams represented are Auburn University, Indiana State University, Kent State, Kansas State University-Polytechnic, LeTourneau University, Lewis University, Liberty University, Middle Tennessee State University, Minnesota State University-Mankato, Ohio State University, Purdue University, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and Western Michigan University.
UND Aerospace is partnering with the Grand Forks Convention & Visitors Bureau and working with corporate sponsors and local businesses to provide a series of unique events before the race officially gets underway. A website providing information on these events is available here. Racers are expected to begin arriving this Wednesday.
A woman’s race
The first event – called “Let’s Explore Aerospace!” – will be from 12:45 to 4 p.m. Friday on the UND campus at the UND Aerospace facilities. Middle-school-aged students can engage in hands-on activities that include the virtual reality flight lab, an air traffic control simulation and training to fly small drones. This event is currently full.
Also, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Friday, “Soaring Through Downtown Grand Forks” offers members of the visiting race teams and the public an opportunity to experience downtown restaurants and businesses in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks. Businesses will be associated with historic women pilots who flew in the early days of the ARC.
On Saturday from 6 to 8 p.m., “North Dakota Welcomes Ya!” will be held in the Gorecki Alumni Center on the UND Campus. UND President Andy Armacost will give welcoming remarks. Guests can mingle to music while sampling a variety of favorite North Dakota foods.
The Takeoff Banquet for ARC racers will be from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday in the Hilton Garden Inn and will feature a number of speakers who have been associated with the race and its historic past.
Extolling the virtues of a favorite regional tradition, on Monday, June 19, the North Dakota Museum of Art on UND’s campus will host the “Midwestern Goodbye.” It offers an enjoyable evening of refreshments, appetizers and art.
Takeoff day on Tuesday, June 20, begins with a breakfast for the flying teams from 6 to 6:30 a.m. at the Grand Forks International Airport in UND Flight Operations. At 8 a.m., more than 40 aircraft will begin taking off at 30-second intervals for the race. This event, expected to last about 45 minutes, is open to the public. Special parking areas will be designated at the airport.
Taking off from Grand Forks
After takeoff, the field of aircraft will spread out as faster planes move to the head of the pack. Intermediate stops along the flight route are in Mankato, Minn., Ottumwa, Iowa, Hastings, Neb., Ponca City, Okla., Sulphur Springs, Texas, Jonesboro, Ark., Pell City, Ala., and Cross City, Fla.
Although the race ends Friday, June 23, in Homestead, Fla., the final results won’t be announced until Sunday, June 25, during the ARC banquet in Homestead.
The oldest race of its kind in the nation, the Air Race Classic traces its roots to the 1929 Women’s Air Derby (also known as the Powder Puff Derby), in which Amelia Earhart and 19 other female pilots raced from Santa Monica, Calif., to Cleveland, Ohio.
This year’s ARC celebrates the 94th anniversary of the historic competition, marking the beginning of women’s air racing in the United States. Today, the ARC is considered the epicenter of women’s air racing, the ultimate test of piloting skill and aviation decision-making for female pilots of all ages and from all walks of life.
The 42 teams of two or three pilots will have four days to complete the course, flying normally aspirated, piston-powered airplanes in visual flight conditions during daylight hours. Pilots and co-pilots must have at least a private pilot certificate and a minimum of 100 hours as pilot-in-command to qualify for the race; one of them must have at least 500 hours as pilot-in-command or a current instrument rating. If they wish, the pilot and co-pilot may bring along a teammate, who must hold at least a student pilot certificate.
Because each plane receives a unique handicap, teams are racing against their own best time, not against one another. This creates a level playing field, enabling slower planes to compete against faster aircraft on an equal basis. Teams strategize to play the elements, holding out for better weather or seeking more favorable winds, to beat their handicap by the greatest margin.
Official standings aren’t determined until after the last team has crossed the finish line, which means the last arrival at the Florida terminus could be the race winner.