Newswise — Her name is “Evelyn,” and she’ll be screaming across the Texas sky today representing UND on the first leg of the annual 2,400-mile Air Race Classic.
Evelyn succeeds “Rhonda,” last year’s UND race plane — both Piper Archer single-engine aircraft and part of UND’s training fleet at the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.
“It just felt right,” said Monique McAnnally, a senior commercial aviation major from Valencia, Calif. She will serve as UND’s navigator in this year’s race.
McAnnally will join UND teammates and race veterans Jenna Annable, Winchester, Va., and Dakotah Osborn, Newton, Iowa, in the cockpit, while fellow newbie, Emily Hartley from St. Paul, will stay back in Grand Forks to serve as the team’s ground coordinator and social media point person.
Annable, a third-year member on the team, and Osborn plan to alternate pilot and co-pilot roles.
“This is my first year in the plane so we’re really lucky and grateful to have (Annable) with us,” Osborn said. I’m really excited to see how the process works and meet the other racers.”
Last year it was Osborn, a senior commercial aviation major, who stayed back as ground coordinator. She performed her duties from Bowman, N.D., where she was working for a weather modification outfit, flying on the edges of severe thunderstorms.
As navigator, McAnnally, who transferred to UND from another flight school three years ago, has the important job of making sure the UND team, also known as the “Frozen Force,” is on track and checking off the different requirements on each leg of the cross-country derby.
“It all hit me about two days ago when I got a little nervous but it was an excited kind of nervous,” McAnnally said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
More than 50 racing teams, including 18 from universities such as UND, are departing Sweetwater, Texas today in the most famous all-women’s air derby. Over four days, they’ll buzz through eight waypoints, including Faribault, Minn., only 350 miles from Grand Forks, on the way to the finish line in Fryeburg, Maine.
The first leg of the race ends in Alva, Okla., and then on to Nebraska, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, New York, before finishing up in Maine.
A crucial factor in the team’s success is the valuable weather information routinely fed to them from a group of UND atmospheric sciences students back on campus, overseen by UND Associate Professor Fred Remer.
“The biggest difference this year is that the race goes west to east,” Annable said. “Last year, we were fighting a headwind the whole way so there was a lot of hurry up and waiting for winds to die down and for (Remer) to tell us when it’s okay to go.
“This year, it will be a lot of waiting for the best tailwind.”
Because of the varied aircraft and wide-ranging power and capabilities of the airframes used by teams in the Air Race Classic, the order of finish isn’t determined by the fastest times from Point A to Point B.
Instead each team is assigned a handicap airspeed, predetermined through a series of test flights and complex mathematical formulas. Teams are then ranked in accordance with how well they are able to maintain and improve upon their assigned handicap.
“It’s kind of funny because you have the ladies who are 95, and they’re just along for the ride and then you have the 16-year-old student pilots … so it’s a huge range of experience but everyone is always having fun,” Annable said.
This is UND’s sixth year competing in the Air Race Classic, but the race itself dates back to 1929, when it was known as the “Powder Puff Derby” with connections to famed female aviators of the past, such as Amelia Earhart.
UND’s top finish in the race came in 2015 when it took second overall. Last year, UND came in eighth.
“I think we did really well last year but we’re looking to do even better this year,” Osborn said. “We’re just constantly improving ourselves every year – that’s our goal.”
Back in Grand Forks, Hartley is staying busy as UND’s primary media contact for interviews with the air racers and disseminating information to the public through social media, including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, as well as on the team’s own blog.
Hartley had just received her certification as a UND flight instructor last Wednesday, when she joined her teammates on the UND flight line to see them off into the wild blue yonder.
“I’m super excited for them,” Hartley said. “I wish I could go with but I have to stay back for classes. I just want to track their progress throughout the race and watch them do as well as they can.”
The UND Team also has a crowdfunding effort going on to help defray the cost of the competition. The goal is to raise more than $4,300. As of Monday, June 18, the team well over halfway there, collecting about $2,800.
UND Assistant Chief Flight Instructor Erin Roesler has been coaching the Air Race Classic team for five of the six years that UND has competed in the event.
“The biggest thing is that it’s more than just the four racers,” Roesler said. “It’s the entire weather forecasting team, it’s the entire airport crew in maintenance, on the flight line and in dispatch. They have been helping us for the last several months, and they are a huge part of the team.”
Other collegiate teams in the race may have weather forecasters on their side, but Roesler explained they’re usually faculty members. At UND, students take the lead on weather reports.
“That’s a key part of it,” Roesler said. “Everyone is learning and everyone is cooperating — being in a crew together.”
Roesler added that the publicity from UND’s participation in the Air Race Classic is one of UND’s primary recruiting tools for young women in aviation.
And the effort appears to be paying off. Industrywide, females comprise as much as six percent of working pilots. But among UND aviation majors in UND’s incoming freshman class and current undergrads that number is closer to 16 percent, Roesler said.
“And we’ve seen that number grow from just under 10 percent four or five years ago,” she said. “We haven’t done anything different in marketing our program so we’re hoping that this has little bit to do with it.”
To follow UND’s 2018 Air Race Classic Team on social media, go to: