When Team Snoopy and Team Red Baroness take to the air at 8 a.m. today (Monday, June 18) in the 2012 Air Race Classic, they will be flying in an 83-year-old tradition that started with pilots like Louise Thaden and Amelia Earhart.They also hope to repeat what Sarah Morris and Leah Hetzel did a year ago, when they became the first Jacksonville University team to beat 54 others in the historic all-women transcontinental national air race.
JU's teams will fly 2,641 miles over four days, from Lake Havasu City Airport in Arizona to Clermont County Airport in Batavia, Ohio.
Team Red Baroness is 18-year-old pilot Katja Jourdan and 20-year-old copilot Renee Brilhante, both undergraduates in the aviation program at JU's Davis College of Business. Flying a Cirrus SR-2, Jourdan said they decided to compete to "see the country from another prospective" after flight training in Florida. And like the pilots of old, they will have to fly by the seat of their pants during parts of the race.
"We will not be filing an instrument flight plan, so we will not rely on air traffic control to go from one place to another," Jourdan said. "And we have fly-bys at all of our airports that range from 200 to 400 feet off the ground, and that will be a lot of fun. It is so the judges can start and stop our times."
Team Snoopy is pilot Juliana Vazquez, 24, and co-pilot Heather Meyer, 32, both aviation program graduates, also flying a Cirrus SR-2. Flying in the wake of last year's winners as well as a 2010 JU team in the collegiate class, Meyer said she is competing for the love of flying.
"Racing is something I have always wanted to do and I love to fly anything," Meyer said. "And I have aspirations and want to do anything from aerobatics to helicopters, and anything I can do to bring awareness to female pilots is good. They can do just as well."
The Air Race Classic is dedicated to encouraging and educating women pilots. Its history dates to 1929, when Thaden won against 19 other pilots including Earhart in the First Women's Air Derby from Santa Monica to Cleveland. This week's race will see 57 teams compete in single- and twin-engine airplanes, with stops in New Mexico, Texas, Kansas, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan.
"We will have more up-to-date aircraft than back then, but it is all based off that, and we are at least living in their honor," Jourdan said.