UND’s Air Race Classic team flies to second place among 56 competing


Amy Halvorson

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UND’s Air Race Classic team flies to second place among 56 competing

A team of University of North Dakota aviators placed second overall among 56 international teams competing this year in the all-women Air Race Classic.

The UND team—Frozen Force—also won second place in a field of 17 collegiate division teams. This was UND’s third year in a race that’s been going annually since before World War II. The team returned safely to Grand Forks this week.

Three UND aviators—all students in the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences (UND Aerospace)—were in the cockpit on this year’s team: Jennifer Pinkowski, Ashburn, Va., pilot (she was the navigator on last year’s team); Carly Namihira, Honolulu, co-pilot (she was the pilot last year); and Christina Druskins, Midland, Mich., navigator. The team’s ground crew was headed by Lydia Wiff, Cologne, Minn.

Like the other competitors, these women followed Amelia Earhart’s lead?she was among the first contenders in this competition when it was inaugurated in 1929.

“Placing in the top 10 really promotes women in aviation at UND,” Namihira said.

This year’s competition started in Fredericksburg, Va., and zigzagged over a 2,561-mile course to the finish line in Fairhope, Ala.

“Hitting the first stop was when everything seemed real,” Druskins said.

“We ran into a lot of UND alumni along the way so that was really cool,” Pinkowski said.

The team also received an award for completing the last leg of the race the fastest.

“It shows that we’re now a team to watch out for,” Wiff said.

The competitors had four days to complete the daylight-only race. Frozen Force completed it in two and a half days.

“It really promotes crew resource management—how you interact with others in the plane and communicating with teammates for three weeks in a row, flying from 6 a.m., to sundown and then in the hotel afterward,” Namihira said.

UND sent the team to the competition in a brand new Cessna 172—provided by Cessna as part of a special promotion—flying with number 39.

Several UND Aerospace departments collaborated for the race, including Atmospheric Sciences faculty member Fred Remer and his Weather Team, comprising six other Atmospheric Sciences faculty, alumni and graduate students.

“Weather is the only real variable in the race,” said Elizabeth Bjerke, professor and chair of Aviation.

“Getting second place was definitely due to our weather team,” Pinkowski said. “When they said go, we went, even if it involved missing out on free manicures, pedicures and massages.”

The UND Aerospace Line and Maintenance Departments also assisted by preparing a “race kit” with various items the team might need, such as tie downs, rags, spare oil, etc. The Maintenance Department was on call in case the team had questions concerning the aircraft during the race. UND Aerospace Dispatch and SOF (Supervisor of Flight) oversaw the flight, tracking it daily.

While Pinkowski, Namihira and Druskins were in the sky, Wiff and Erin Schoenrock, a UND senior flight instructor and the team’s coach, kept in contact with the team and tracked its journey via social media.

“The UND Aerospace Foundation was a huge supporter again this year, providing a one-to-one match for contributions up to $10,000 designated toward the Air Race Classic Team,” Schoenrock said.

“I think the experience we’ve received through this race is very unique to UND and makes UND very special,” Wiff said. “You can’t put a price on that.”

Amy Halvorson University & Public Affairs writer

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