UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

Wishing you blue skies and a great competition

A weekend of banquets, breakfasts and aircraft inspections welcomed 100 Air Race Classic racers to Grand Forks

Air Race Classic racers gather at ‘North Dakota Welcomes ‘Ya’! buffet at the Gorecki Alumni Center on Saturday, June 17.
Photo by Arjun Jagada/John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.

In Grand Forks, the Air Race Classic’s takeoff on Tuesday was also a finish of sorts. For it marked the successful close of many months of planning, organizing and plain hard work: the work that went into making Grand Forks serve as the best possible starting point for the 2023 race.

“We have been preparing to host this start for over five years, so we are going to make it one for the racers to remember!” said Beth Bjerke, aviation professor at UND, associate dean and co-chair of the event, in a UND Today story last week.

“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.”

UND instructors and Aerospace student ambassadors helped middle- and high-school students learn their way around the Aerospace School at Friday’s Let’s Explore Aerospace! event. Photo by Arjun Jagada/John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.

Those events started on Friday, when the “Let’s Explore Aerospace!” youth event gave 105 students from middle and high schools in the region the chance to see UND’s aerospace facilities up close. (UND instructors and aerospace student ambassadors guided the students through the facilities and talked with students on each component of the tour. The day came to an end as the students watched the launch of a UND weather balloon, which will help teams throughout the race.)

With an eye to welcoming the ARC’s 100 racers to town, the weekend’s activities continued with downtown Grand Forks events on Friday evening; a Welcome to North Dakota buffet (featuring lefsa and hotdish, among other regional favorites) on Saturday night; a banquet on Sunday evening; and a Midwestern Goodbye event on Monday evening, the night before takeoff.

When middle- and high-school students visit UND Aerospace, as happened during the Air Race Classic’s ‘Let’s Explore Aerospace!’ event, taking a spin in a simulator is always a highlight. Photo by Arjun Jagada/John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.

In addition, UND, the Grand Forks airport and the Air Race Classic’s leadership coordinated aircraft inspections, weather and other briefings for racers, check-ins, credential distributions, media requests and the countless other details that go into staging America’s oldest transcontinental cross-country competition for female pilots.

Below are photos of some of the weekend’s activities, along with excerpts from remarks delivered by UND President Andrew Armacost and others at the various events. UND Today joins UND and Grand Forks in thanking the organizers for their exceptionally hard work, and in echoing Carly Namihira, UND ’14 – current United Airlines first officer, and past member of two UND Air Race Classic teams – in her charge to the racers at Sunday’s banquet: “Fly fast, fly safe and good luck to everyone!”


UND President Andy Armacost addresses the racers at the Air Race Classic’s ‘North Dakota Welcomes ‘Ya’ event. Photo by Arjun Jagada/John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.

UND President and retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Andy Armacost, addressing the racers at Saturday’s “North Dakota Welcomes ‘Ya!” dinner:

I think of folks whom I’d known throughout my Air Force career: people such as Nicole Malachowski; does anyone know that name? (Cheers and applause.)

She was the first female pilot for the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.

I think of Kim “KC” Campbell, whom I knew very well at the Air Force Academy. She was flying in 2003 in Iraq, and her A-10 aircraft was hit repeatedly with fire from the ground; but she miraculously saved the aircraft and landed safely. …

So we look to them and the amazing examples that they’ve set.

And in addition, having events like this is so important – events where you can come together as women in aviation to compete against each other, but even more importantly, to build relationships. Because I can guarantee that many of you sitting in the room, you’re going to run into each other at professional organizations, you might fly together in the airlines, and you might see one another out and about in airports later on in life.

So make sure you build those connections. That’s the other reason why these events exist.

Armacost then told a story about an encounter that he, his wife Kathy, and their two daughters had years ago. That’s when they had a chance to speak with Capt. Tracy, a female pilot for a national airline, who generously took time to show the Armacost daughters the aircraft’s cockpit.

“So, Kathy started talking to Capt. Tracy and said, ‘Hey, do you have a family as well?’ And she said ‘Yes! My son is 8,’ and she described the rest of her family. And Kathy asked, ‘does your son want to be a pilot?’

“Capt. Tracy laughed and said, ‘No. He thinks being a pilot is a girl’s job.’ “ (Laughter and applause.)

My thanks to all the team who put this together, all of the judges, all the organizers and so forth. You’re absolutely incredible. Let me wish you blue skies, and have a great competition. Thank you!


Laura Lucas-Edwards, director of line operations for Delta Airlines, addressing the racers at Saturday night’s dinner:

I am extremely excited to be a part of this event. Looking around here, I just see the future of aviation. And it’s absolutely beautiful. …

And as far as Delta goes, we are extremely proud to be a part of this weekend. This is a unique experience that each and every one of you will cherish forever. …
You know, Delta is a strong advocate for diversity. In fact, in this last year we increased our female pilot ranks by 26.8%.

But something unique happened recently. Last week, we had two new-hire female pilots received their Delta wings. And what’s so inspiring about that story is the fact that those two pilots met each other at an Air Race Classic several years ago. They were reunited at their wings ceremony. …

A weather balloon launched by UND Aerospace on Friday, June 16, will gather information that’ll help all of the racers in the Air Race Classic. Photo by Arjun Jagada/John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.

While there are more and more women in aviation today, it is still rare to see two female pilots together on the flight deck of a mainline jet. But because of events like this, and because of people like all of you, that is changing. That is absolutely changing.

So each and every one of you is part of this industry now, and you are unique – but you’re not alone. We are strongest together.


Beth Bjerke, introducing Carly Namihira, guest speaker at the Sunday evening banquet:

Now when Carly was a student, and the girls came to me saying. ‘We want to do this air race thing. How do we do this?’, I was fully supportive. … I wasn’t the competitive type. I didn’t care if we won or lost. I wanted to see these young girls do some amazing outreach – outreach that would impact the future of aviation, not just in our university, but across the country.

Young people are motivated and inspired by other young people doing really cool things. So if we could create an Air Race Classic team with the right students, and showcase their skills flying across the country in an amazing race like this, this could have an impact.

They could have a social media presence. They could do outreach events with the schools.

And that’s exactly what Carly and her teammates did in those early years. …

Lara Gaerte, Air Race Classic Inc. president, addresses the crowd at Saturday’s ‘North Dakota Welcomes ‘Ya!’ buffet. Photo by Arjun Jagada/John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.

At that time, our program had less than 8% female students, and it was a stagnant number that had been steady for probably about 10 years. Nothing happened – until we embraced the Air Race community and supported air racers of our own. I mean Carly was on a billboard, and we had ads in papers, and when students came to town, we were talking about these air racers.

And it has made a difference. We slowly went from 8%, to 9 to 10.

This last fall, over 20% of our incoming students are female. …

What you guys are doing is so inspiring, especially for the younger generation — that is so important. That’s why all of you truly are legendary as racers.


The Hilton Garden Inn in Grand Forks was the site of the Air Race Classic’s Takeoff Banquet on Sunday, June 18. Photo by Arjun Jagada/John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.

Carly Namihira, United Airlines first officer and past member of two UND Air Race Classic teams, addressing the racers at the Sunday evening banquet:

Throughout my life, I’ve always been proud to have been born and raised in Hawaii. I’m proud to be a pilot. But most of all, I am proud to have placed in one of the most challenging aviation races, the Air Race Classic. …

Throughout the many organizations I am a part of, I can say that the Air Race Classic has some of the most inspiring and charitable women I’ve ever met. These are successful women who have mentored me outside of the aviation community and given me more insight on ways I could be a part of the change within the aviation industry. …

And the ARC has made me a better decision maker. It’s crazy to hear from some of the veterans that the years I raced in the Air Race Classic involved some of the most challenging weather conditions they’ve ever faced, with massive thunderstorms, twin tornadoes and let’s not forget my first year racing, when we were stuck in Elko, Nev., for 2 ½ days with freezing rain, hail and snow in the middle of June.

Who knew, right? (Laughter and applause)

So because of this, the ARC has not only made me a better pilot, but has made me a better flight instructor and a United Airlines crew member today. … So in conclusion, remember that you are the change in the aviation community. … Fly fast, fly safe and good luck to everyone!

‘I’m so proud of our team; they’re called the Frozen Force,’ said UND President Andy Armacost at the buffet dinner on Saturday. ‘The whole team is truly incredible. And those incredible stories just repeat themselves at each of the tables that I see before me.’
Pictured at the Takeoff Banquet on Sunday evening are (from left) navigator Tracy Mitchell, a sophomore from Billings, Mont., majoring in commercial aviation and unmanned aircraft systems; 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; and ground coordinator Ashley Almquist, a freshman from Bay Village, Ohio, majoring in commercial aviation and aviation safety. Photo by Arjun Jagada/John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.