Students compete in Air Race Classic

Liberty Belles — The team, from left to right, front row: coach Sarah Morris and Esther Dii. Back row: Lindsey Gray, Mollie Melton and Naomi Satterfield. Two teams — Dii, Melton and Gray, Satterfield — will fly from Lake Havasu, Ariz. to Batavia, Ohio in four days. The team to beat their handicap time by the greatest margin wins. Photo credit: Ben Lesley

School of Aeronautics students prepare to fly across US

Two teams of Liberty University students will fly in the 2012 Air Race Classic in June. The 2,400-mile transcontinental race is an all-women’s race based on the 1929 “Powder Puff” Air Derby flown by Amelia Earhart.

Fifty teams will fly from Lake Havasu, Ariz., north to Sault Ste Marie on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, before landing at Batavia, Ohio. According to Liberty flight instructor and student mechanic Sarah Morris — who won the 2011 race while flying for her alma mater, Jacksonville University — the event usually takes four days.

“Each aircraft has its own handicap speed, and basically, whoever beats that speed by the greatest margin wins,” Morris said. “It’s not who gets to the finish line first, it’s whoever beats their own speed.”

Morris will coach Liberty’s teams this year, lending her experience as both an Air Race Classic champion and a certified flight instructor (CFI). Dispatcher Aly Boardman will provide weather tracking and logistical support.

Graphic by Elliot Mosher

Liberty’s competitors come from diverse backgrounds. Student pilots Esther Dii and Mollie Melton — both training to become airline pilots — will be paired up, while CFI and recent mechanic school graduate Lindsey Gray and helicopter student Naomi Satterfield make up the second team.

“I’m from Papua New Guinea, and we have less than 10 female pilots flying (in our country), so it’s unheard of,” Dii said. “I’m going to be the first New Guinean ever to race in an air race like this, and I’m going to use it as a voice to encourage women. Where I come from, aviation is male-dominated, so being part of that race will put me in a better position to go back and encourage women.”

Both Melton and Dii want to fly for major airlines in the future. Dii will be the first New Guinean to fill such a role, and she intends to eventually return to Papua New Guinea to fly. Morris, Gray and Satterfield are all aiming to become missionary aviators. Satterfield is looking at Nepal, and Morris and Gray are both considering African missions.

“I would like to go into missions, specifically helicopter search and rescue, as a platform ministry in closed countries,” Satterfield said. “I love mountaineering, and I have a heart for Alpinists and guides and the Sherpa community.”

Both teams are looking forward to using the race as an opportunity to share the Gospel and represent the university, as well.

“I think it’s a really good opportunity to represent Liberty, and more than that, to represent Christ,” Satterfield said. “We’re going across the country, so we’re going to encounter people from all over, and if we conduct ourselves in a manner that glorifies the Lord … I think it will bring up questions and inspire people to look further into that.”

In last year’s race, Morris was able to do just that.

“After we went through one of the airports, I got an email from one of the guys that worked at the airport saying, ‘I could tell there was something different about your team, and then I read your bios, and I know it was your faith in Christ,’” Morris said. “It was really neat to get that message and be able to talk to him about that.”

The Air Race Classic costs a total of $20,000 for the two teams, which they are currently raising. Aircraft rentals, fuel, food and hotel costs are all included in the total. The race will run from June 19 to 22, with pre-race preparation activities beginning June 16.


  • What a great challenge and opportunity. I’m supporting you “Belles” all the way. You are already winners.

  • We the people of tsaka valley of wapenamanda district in the enga province in papua new guinea are very proud of you, Esther Dii… mamakin jef

  • If God is all you have, you have all you need..To others such a career is an ordinary to them but to us (engan and PNGan) its an extra ordinary path and career…With Tarakali Wape, we can do exploits, Samson Alo..

  • Let God be the glory

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