June 30, 2021 : By Ted Allen - Office of Communications & Public Engagement
The five female aviators from Liberty University’s School of Aeronautics (SOA) who represented the Liberty Belles in this month’s Air Race Derby gained valuable flight planning experience on whirlwind weekend journeys — completing their identical five-leg routes out of Lynchburg Regional Airport to North Carolina and back in one day.
After the 85 teams from around the United States finished their respective flights of at least 325 nautical miles between June 12-26, results were announced in a virtual awards banquet on Sunday. Piloting two of the 20 Cessna Skyhawks in the Liberty SOA fleet, the Liberty Belles II team of Chloe Cady and Kristi Serafin landed in 10th place and the Liberty Belles I trio of Erika Jordan, Meredith Boardman, and Savannah Rotmeijer came in 41st, also winning a prize for their third-place fourth leg of the race.
“We did really well this year,” said Megan Bradshaw, Liberty’s Associate Director/Student Success Coordinator and Air Race Classic Coach, noting all but Serafin are Liberty SOA Flight Line Instructors and all but Rotmeijer have previous Air Race Classic competition experience. “The teams met early in the morning to plan their race route times to include the atmospheric conditions (winds and temperatures) to be as accurate as possible. The objective was to fly the route as closely as possible to those times planned and submitted prior to takeoff on that day and both teams incurred minimal error percentages throughout the route.”
All routes were required to be flown during daylight hours using Visual Flight Rules (VFR), beneath any clouds, which delayed both teams’ departures — by a few hours for the trio of Jordan, Boardman, and Rotmeijer on June 13, and a full day for the second tandem of Cady and Serafin on June 21 — as they waited for storm systems to pass.
“It was a lot hotter and there was a decent amount of wind in North Carolina, but there were storms all along the route on Sunday so we thought it would be best to wait until Monday,” said Serafin, who served as Cady’s co-pilot after performing back-seat teammate duties the previous two years. “Throughout the last week and a half, we flight planned as much as we could down to the final details, and did some (simulator flights). In the plane, we worked well together and had good communication. We were in the air for about five hours and when we landed in Clinton (N.C.), we flight-planned again, which took another hour. It was a long day, but it was fun.”
She said they were successful in plotting their course and sticking their landings and fly-bys on time.
“For three of the legs, we were pretty dead-on, and for the landing legs (in Clinton, N.C., and Lynchburg), we were off by seconds,” Serafin said. “It was a good experience, allowing us to grow as pilots and learn how to work in a crew environment.”
Boardman said after waiting for the morning weather to clear, her team deliberated whether or not to depart in the afternoon, knowing there was a possibility for thunderstorms later in the day.
“We were initially uncertain if we would be able to complete it on Sunday because to the west of Lynchburg the weather was marginal,” Boardman said. “As we made our way south and east, we knew the temperature would rise and we decided to give it a go and it went pretty well.”
She said the practical applications she and her teammates lived out in preparing for the race and through the execution of their flight plans were invaluable.
“It’s definitely an awesome learning opportunity,” said Boardman, who like Jordan is working on her master’s degree and has been doing flight instruction for the past year and a half. “There is really no better way to apply all of the book knowledge and the weather theory and the flight planning than to go out and have a real-world experience like this. You’re working in a crew environment and flying in rapidly changing circumstances. It’s a great way to take all of the top-notch flight instruction I’ve received at Liberty and to be able to apply it in the real world and then share it with my students.”
The 2022 Air Race Classic will fly over 12 states, launching on June 21 from Lakeland, Fla., with stops in Moultrie, Ga., Muscle Shoals, Ala., Hattiesburg, Miss., Pine Bluff, Ark., Ada, Okla., Lawrence, Kan., Mount Vernon, Ill., Tullahoma, Tenn., and Terre Haute, Ind., the ARC’s terminus on June 24.