From Press-Citzen.com: Local pilot prepared for air race
When Minnetta Gardinier hops into the cockpit this morning for a four-day aviation race through the eastern U.S., there's one thing she's sure to have handy.
A working set of keys.
It was three years ago sitting on the runway for her first Air Race Classic in Bozeman, Mont., that Gardinier had received the all-clear for takeoff when she realized her key -- a spare just made at the hardware store a day or so before -- didn't work.
Gardinier hurried out of the cockpit and rifled through the baggage compartment before finding the original, but not before raising a few eyebrows and holding up the takeoff line.
"People were looking at us like, 'What are they doing?'" she said last week in a hangar at the Iowa City Airport where she was preparing her plane for its third-straight run in the all-women's race.
Don't expect the 56-year-old Iowa City pilot to make that same mistake today when she and her co-pilot, Deb McGee of Indianola, will be aboard one of about 55 single-engine planes scheduled for takeoff at 8 a.m. in Fort Meyers, Fla.
By Friday, the pilots will have traversed nearly 2,500 miles with stops in Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and West Virginia, before ultimately crossing the finish in Frederick, Md. Planes are allowed to be in the air from sun-up until sundown to complete as many legs of the trip as possible. The top 10 finishers split a $15,000 purse.
Gardinier, an associate dean at the University of Iowa Graduate College and an associate professor of pharmacology, has raised $6,000 for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society the past two years through sponsorships for her plane, and she's hoping to donate $4,000 more this year.
MS is a cause that's important to Gardinier. She has received research grants from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society over the years to study the disease, and a close friend has been diagnosed with MS.
Gardinier took up flying on a whim seven years ago when she spotted a brochure for flying lessons at the Iowa City Airport.
"We went out the first time and I just loved it," she said.
Gardinier earned her license in 18 months and now has logged more than 800 hours in the air. She co-owns a 1978 Cardinal Cessna, which she often flies to job-related destinations across the country. Earlier this month, she flew into her college reunion in Syracuse, N.Y., before darting down to Washington, D.C., for a meeting.
"For me, it's so different from what I do with the rest of my life," Gardinier said. "It just gives you a different perspective on the earth. When I took lessons I used to refer to them as my little micro-vacations because it was an hour up there and it puts you somewhere else."
Gardinier discovered the thrill of flying at an early age and has long been intrigued by airplanes. Growing up in upstate New York, her mother worked for a company that prepared airline meals and often would take Gardinier on the free trips she earned.
While Gardinier is a veteran in the skies, her co-pilot will be making her first appearance in the Air Race Classic this week. McGee, 57, earned her pilot's certificate in November and will be running the radio and helping with navigation in the cockpit this week.
The two are members of the Iowa 99s, a women's aviation group in which Gardinier serves as the chairperson.
McGee said she admittedly was a little nervous about the race -- the flight to Fort Meyers was her longest trip aboard a non-commercial plane -- but she said Gardinier's experience was reassuring.
"She's been through it before," McGee said. "I would never do it as a first-time pilot with someone who had not raced before, but she knows the ropes."
Gardinier, who also serves on the Iowa City Airport Commission, successfully lobbied to have the Air Race Classic begin in Iowa City next summer.
The race uses a handicapping system to give all pilots an equal chance of winning, with each plane undergoing a test flight before the race to determine its air speed. The winner is the pilot who pushes her plane the fastest beyond its handicap.
"So what you're really trying to do is catch the best winds and catch the best weather conditions and get the best performance from your plane," Gardinier said.
Gardinier said it's the camaraderie of the female pilot community that she looks forward to the most with the classic each year.
"Some people kind of refer to it as summer camp for pilots and I kind of look at it that way, too," she said. "I look forward to seeing a lot of the same women who've done it in the past. The thing that's really special about it is meeting all of these women from different walks of life."