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Austin Ashlock, Forum News Service, Published June 17 2013

UND aviation student, instructor are ND’s first competitors in all-women air race

GRAND FORKS – Amy Warbalow and Katrina Kugler are no strangers to the sky.

The pair of University of North Dakota pilots will make North Dakota aviation history when they become the first pilots from UND and North Dakota to compete in the Air Race Classic on June 18.

The all-women race, which begins in Pasco, Wash., will take them 2,458 miles across the United States, finishing in Fayetteville, Ark. on June 21.

Warbalow, a senior UND aviation student, and Kugler, a UND flight supervisor, will be flying under the team name “wUNDer women,” and Warbalow said she has been counting down days until the race begins.

“We are literally flying around the country; it’s exciting,” Warbalow said. “The fact that we are the first team from UND and North Dakota to compete is also really special.”

Despite being called a race, the Air Race Classic is not a typical start-to-finish affair.

Prior to the race, each plane is given a handicap speed as determined by a judge. During the race, teams’ speed for each leg is determined using the times each team passes a start and finish line. Race speeds are then compared to each team’s predetermined handicap speed. The team that beats their overall handicap speed by the largest margin wins the race.

“The real competition is actually the plane we are flying in,” Kugler said. “When I tell people I’m going to be in an air race, their minds go to Red Bull races or something, but it’s nothing like that.”

Challenging race

Warbalow said the handicap should make the race more interesting but won’t be the most difficult aspect.

“The mountain flying is going to be the most challenging part for me,” Warbalow said. “We don’t have any terrain like that in North Dakota so it’s like nothing I’ve flown before.”

Warbalow and Kugler will be flying in a Cessna Skyhawk 172S, a UND-owned aircraft.

Once all 49 teams take off from the Tri-Cities Airport in Pasco, Wash., they will make stops in Mayfield, Idaho; Mountain Home, Idaho; Logan, Utah; Rawlins, Wyo.; Spearfish, S.D.; Brookings, S.D.; Holdrege, Neb.; La Junta, Colo.; and Woodward, Okla., before arriving at Drake Field Airport in Fayetteville.

The race includes a $15,000 purse that will be split among the top-10 finishing teams.

The first Air Race Classic was held in 1977 and has since functioned as a nonprofit organization focused on encouraging and educating women pilots and spreading awareness of women in the field of aviation.

“This race really stands out from all the others,” Warbalow said. “There are very few women in aviation, so being a part of a race that is made up entirely of women is a privilege.”

‘A good team’

Kugler said the race will take both Warbalow and herself out of their comfort zone.

“I’ve flown with Amy in the past, and I’m looking forward to getting up there and doing this with her,” Kugler said. “But this is unusual for the both of us. Usually we focus on certain aspects of flying, so this will be like lumping all of those aspects together and applying them to a real situation. It’s going to be a challenge.”

Warbalow said she is happy to be flying with Kugler.

“Katrina and I make a good team,” Warbalow said. “She’s very smart, and she knows her stuff really well. Plus she is really fun and energetic, so I’ll be counting on her to keep spirits up.”

The pair departed from Grand Forks Airport in their Cessna Skyhawk on Wednesday morning en route to Washington State.

Warbalow and Kugler will be documenting their journey via the team’s “Air Race Classic 2013” blog page.