June 29, 2012
Making history: Team lands K-State Salina's first top 10 finish in historic air race
After more than a week and nearly 4,000 nautical miles in un-air-conditioned cockpits, four pilots returned to Salina on June 25 sweaty, tired and smiling; two of them wearing medals.
Nicole Lordemann, senior in professional pilot, Baldwin City, and Tonya Hodson, junior in professional pilot, Marion, were the first Kansas State University team to break the top 10 in the historic, all-female Air Race Classic, bringing home a $500 cash prize for their eighth-place finish.
The team, which placed second in the collegiate category, was assigned the race ID Classic 8, which meant that they were the eighth team to take off at the beginning of the race in Lake Havasu, Ariz., on June 19. The ladies say they like the coincidence.
K-State's second team, Classic 38, consisting of Megan Henderson, senior in professional pilot, Topeka, and Summer Gajewski, junior in professional pilot, Hutchinson, placed 20th overall out of a total 48 teams, and sixth out of 11 teams in the collegiate category.
A combination of heat, dehydration and altitude slowed Classic 38 on the first day of the race.
"Megan wasn't feeling well so we decided to stop for a while in Hereford, Texas, which was the end of the second leg of the race. She was willing to keep going, but we decided it was still early and we'd compete better if we were both feeling our best," Gajewski said.
In the meantime, Classic 8 finished the third leg of the race and landed in Goodland for the evening, where three generations of John Collett's family treated them to dinner.
The next two nights saw both teams finishing their days in Columbus, Neb., and then Ashland, Wis., but they didn't talk much strategy.
“Everybody's out to win, so you don't want to tell anybody what your plan is,” Henderson said.
Despite not sharing strategies, both teams spent time getting to know other competitors.
"A lot of the collegiate teams are planning to be at the Women In Aviation conference next year, so we're going to meet up there," Henderson said.
"We spent time with a team that has been competing for 22 years, two in the last Powder Puff Derby and 20 in the Air Race Classic," Hodson said. "They were an amazing source of knowledge and were kind enough to share some basic tips for competing in the race."
"It's important to be able to communicate with your co-pilot," Lordemann said. "We were fortunate that our personalities blended well. There were times that we could almost read each other's minds."
Lordemann and Hodson had never flown together before they jumped in the cockpit for the first leg of the race. Lordemann, who was serving an internship at Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport in Thermal, Calif., met her race partner in Arizona on June 15. Their plane had already been inspected and locked away, so there was no flying before the race started.
Gajewski and Henderson had only flown together from the K-State Salina campus to the race.
"One of the coolest things about the race was that we went from desert to mountains to plains to lakes to mountains again," Lordemann said.
"I loved flying over the Great Lakes, but I didn't love the thunderstorms and winds in that area," Gajewski said. "Flybys were also fun. That's where we had to fly over a specific point at about 200 feet off the ground at our top speed."
Hodson said the race was something she long wanted to do.
"We had a great time and learned so much, but we couldn't have done it without the support of K-State and the Connor Burton Aviation Foundation," she said. "K-State's maintenance team was also awesome, getting the planes ready for the race, even coming in on the weekend to send us some paperwork that the race needed. The school fueled and hangared the airplanes, and the Burton Foundation fueled and hangared us pilots.
"Nicole and I plan to donate our prize money back to the Burton Foundation so that other pilots can benefit from their generosity," Hodson said.
All four women plan to compete in Air Race Classic 2013.