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Websites: Blog available at http://ksuarc.blogspot.com and Air Race Classic information available at http://www.airraceclassic.org.
Photo available. Download at http://www.k-state.edu/media/newsreleases/jun11/613airrace.jpg
Photo cutline: Nicole Lordemann, left, and Megan Henderson, right, sit in the cockpit of the Cessna Skyhawk 172 that they will fly in Air Race Classic 2011, June 21-24. (Courtesy photo taken before a practice flight in February.)
News release prepared by: Natalie Blair, 785-826-2642, nblair@k-state.edu

Monday, June 13, 2011

FLYING HIGH: TWO K-STATE SALINA PILOTS TO COMPETE IN HISTORIC, ALL-FEMALE RACE

SALINA -- Twenty-three hundred nautical miles. Fifty teams. Four days. Two young women. An opportunity of a lifetime.

Megan Henderson and Nicole Lordemann are preparing for the ultimate summer adventure that two female pilots could dream of: Air Race Classic 2011.

Both women will begin their junior year in Kansas State University Salina's professional pilot program in the fall. This summer they join a tradition more than 80 years old when they and 103 other female pilots and take to the skies June 21.

"The experience will be the chance of a lifetime, and I have a competitive nature," said Henderson, Topeka. "Nicole was just as excited to compete as I was when I asked if she would compete with me."

"The Air Race Classic is a wonderful opportunity to network and meet other female pilots, as well as build my flying experience outside the Kansas borders," said Lordemann, Baldwin City.

The Air Race Classic honors a tradition that began with the First Women's Air Derby in 1929. Over the years the race has changed names and scoring methods, and the contestants follow a different route each year.

The race begins 8 a.m. Tuesday, June 21, in Iowa City, Iowa. Racers have through Friday, June 24, to finish the race in Mobile, Ala., and must stop at checkpoints in Brookings, S.D.; Jamestown, N.D.; Spearfish, S.D.; Rawlins, Wyo.; Alliance, Neb.; Great Bend; Borger, Texas; Norman, Okla.; and El Dorado, Ark.

In the current format racers are given four days to complete all 10 legs of the race following visual flight rules. That means that they can fly only when the conditions are clear enough for the pilots to see where the aircraft is going. The pilots try to play the elements by waiting for better weather or winds.

Planes are assigned a handicap speed, and the pilots' goal is to have their actual ground speed be as far over the handicap speed as possible. Women can compete with airplanes ranging from 145 to 570 horsepower, so the handicapping system lets each team race within the capabilities of their plane. It's possible that the last plane to cross the finish line will win the race.

A few things have stayed the same, however. The race is open to pilots of all ages -- as long as they're female. And everyone is trying to win.

"Things are going to be very fast-paced, and we are going to have to make 'go' and 'no go' decisions," Lordemann said. "I'm excited to work as a team to decide things such as the best altitude to fly at to get a tailwind, should we go even though the weather looks like it is closing in, whether we'll have enough fuel, and what to do if things don't go as expected."

Henderson and Lordemann will compete in a Cessna Skyhawk 172 equipped with a Garmin G1000 avionics system.

"We chose this aircraft because we will be able to use it to help us navigate," Henderson said. "The G1000 will show us how much fuel we are burning per hour and also how much fuel is left."

Lordemann said another useful characteristic of the G1000 is that it shows which direction the wind is coming from and what angle to fly at to keep the plane on course and in a straight line.

"This will be important during the race because your scores will depend on your leg time, and if you are able to find a good tailwind you will have a better time," Lordemann said.

The duo has had help from two other women who know exactly what they are going through. Robin Laws, Wichita, and Nikki Gaskins, Salina, competed in the Air Race Classic themselves while students at K-State Salina.

In addition to providing advice and practicing scenarios with Lordemann and Henderson, Laws and Gaskins have set up a blog for the students so they can provide updates as the competition progresses. The blog is available at http://ksuarc.blogspot.com.

Henderson and Lordemann said they wouldn't have been able to compete without the help of several other people, too.

"We are both very thankful for all of the help we have received," Henderson said. "We've had a lot of support from Jan Burton and the Conner Burton Aviation Foundation, our instructors and Kathy Sanders in the dean's office. Mike Wise, senior aviation manager, and the K-State aviation maintenance crew have all been wonderful."

Lordemann said "Kurt Barnhart, head of the aviation department, got us in contact with a previous racer he knew. The maintenance team has helped us prepare the plane and make sure all the records and inspections are up to date. Troy Brockway, associate professor of aviation, gave us some instruction on mountain flying, which we will use when we are flying through Wyoming."

More information about the race can be found at www.airraceclassic.org.