Two local women began their summers by traveling to various parts of the country, and as young pilots who participated in this year’s Air Race Classic, they flew themselves.
A nonprofit organization, Air Race Classic Inc., coordinates an annual transcontinental air race for female pilots.
This year’s collegiate section included two McHenry County natives, 20-year-old Krystal Felderman of Cary and 21-year-old Sarah Demkovich of Algonquin. The two, from different schools and separate teams, recently finished the race and are headed home this week.
Felderman, who grew up listening to stories about her great uncle who was a fighter pilot during World War II, said her interest in aviation led her to Quincy University, where she just finished her sophomore year. She said this was the first time her school sent a team to the Air Race Classic.
“We placed 32 out of 56 teams, so we didn’t place as high as we thought,” Felderman said. “But I still loved it. In the classroom, you never get the experience to go cross-country and experience different terrains and different weather.”
The route – about 2,400 miles in length, according to the organization’s website – had teams start in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and end in Fairhope, Alabama, with stops in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Missouri and other states in between.
For Felderman, flying over the Appalachian Mountains was the best part of the multi-day trip.
“That was amazing to see,” she said.
Demkovich, a graduate student and flight instructor at Southern Illinois University, described the various factors pilots had to consider while racing.
For one, the teams were not racing against each other, but, essentially, against the best speed of their own plane.
“[At the beginning], a timer measures the best performance of our plane, when we’re at full throttle,” Demkovich said. “Then [the rest of the race], you’re basically racing against your own plane.”
While flying from one take-off location to the next destination, teams should think about things such as where the weight of their luggage should be to optimize gravitational energy, Felderman said.
Being able to evaluate weather conditions obviously is an extremely important factor, too, Demkovich added.
“On our last leg to Fairhope, Alabama, we hit some significant storm weather,” the SIU grad student said. “We know how storms grow very quickly. ... We had to deviate our flight path around a pretty large cell.”
Demkovich and her teammate placed 24th out of the 56 teams. While it was more “middle of the run” than what they were hoping to achieve their first time participating, she appreciated the race as a rare learning experience nonetheless.
“Doing cross-country racing is a challenge in itself,” she said. “You learn more about the weather and more about different terrains, so whether you came in first or last, you still learn something new.”