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Ohio University women's air race team wins national trophy

ATHENS, Ohio (July 8, 2004) -- A two-woman pilot team sponsored by the Ohio University Department of Aviation, part of the Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering and Technology, took top honors among collegiate teams in the 28th annual cross-country, all-women Air Race Classic, June 23-26. This was Ohio University's second year in the competition.

Flight instructor and Ohio University alumna Kristin Shoemaker, of Louisville, Ky., and 2004 graduate Katie Ventresco, of Salem, Ohio, finished ahead of four collegiate teams including Purdue University, whose team has flown in the competition for 11 years. The women won the race's national Collegiate Challenge Trophy for their accomplishment. Overall, the duo finished ninth among more than 30 teams, many of whose members are veterans of the sky.

The team received support and donations from the local area as well as Shoemaker's hometown.

"This is an event we will never forget. The love and support of our friends and families combined with our dedication and determination allowed us to experience that which most can only dream of," Ventresco said.

Shoemaker and Ventresco flew the 2,247 round-trip route from Wichita, Kan. in a Cessna 172SP, a typical pilot trainer. From Wichita, the route continued in a northward circle to Lamar, Colo.; North Platte, Neb.; Gillette, Wyo.; Huron, S.D.; Eveleth, Minn.; Sheboygan, Wis.; and Hannibal, Mo.

On their first day, favorable winds and a top speed enabled the duo to press on to Huron instead of making the planned overnight stop in Gillette. This helped them arrive in Wichita a day and a half early.

"During one leg, we flew at about 10,000 feet and cruised at 165 knots, which was remarkably fast," Shoemaker explained.

The race is limited to stock and minimally modified stock airplanes between 145 and 570 horsepower. Each competing plane is assigned a handicap speed, with the goal of getting its ground speed as far over the handicap speed as possible. Each team flies against its own speed, so any entry has an equal chance at victory – but the classic is not a test of speed. Instead, it measures the pilots' proficiency and overall excellence.

"What Katie and Kristin have accomplished is truly remarkable and is a testimony to their dedication and commitment to aviation," said Juan Merkt, chair of the department. "We hope young girls look at this famous race for inspiration and at women like Katie and Kristin as role models. The women of our program are very involved in their studies and in extracurricular activities," he said.

According to Merkt, both Ventresco and Shoemaker are also members of the university's Flying Bobcats flight team.

"Women make up approximately 10 percent of our students, in line with national averages. However, nearly half of our flight team is women. Our female students also participate in several student organizations such as Women in Aviation International; Alpha Eta Rho, an international aviation fraternity; and the American Association of Airport Executives," Merkt said.

Shoemaker also participated in last year's race, dubbed "Flight into History" in tribute to the centennial of the Wright brothers' historic flight. That race included a fly-by of famed Kitty Hawk, N.C., on the way to the finish.

"These women have become my friends, and the camaraderie mixed with a bit of friendly competition makes these relationships extremely rewarding," Shoemaker said. Both women plan to visit Air Race Classic competitors from Western Michigan University later this summer.

An all-women's air race has existed since 1929, when twenty pilots – including Earhart – raced from Santa Monica, Calif., to Cleveland in the First Women's Air Derby. Racing continued through the 1930s and resumed following World War II with the All Women's Transcontinental Air Race (AWTAR).

When the AWTAR finished its 30-year run in 1977, the Air Race Classic began. Twenty-seven years later, the extended amateur cross-country race featured more than 30 teams, including four participating in the inaugural Collegiate Challenge Trophy.

Ohio University's participation in the Air Race Classic continues an impressive spring for the school's fliers. The Flying Bobcats placed 10th among 80 teams in the National Intercollegiate Flying Association's (NIFA) Safety and Flight Evaluation Conference (SAFECON) this May. Placing ahead of U.S. Air Force Academy and the U.S. Naval Academy, the Flying Bobcats have now competed in SAFECON three years in a row.

Both Shoemaker and Ventresco will represent the department later this month at the Dayton Air Show, themed "Women in Aviation." Ohio University is a major sponsor of the event.

The Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering and Technology at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, educates well-rounded professionals with both technical and team-project skills. The Russ College offers undergraduate and graduate degrees across the traditional engineering spectrum and in technology disciplines such as aviation, computer science, and industrial technology. Research areas currently receiving significant funding include avionics, distributed and secure computing, fuel cells, oil and gas pipeline corrosion, and environmental pipes and culverts. Named for alumnus Fritz Russ and his wife Dolores, the Russ College is home of the Russ Prize, one of the top three engineering prizes in the world. For more information, visit www.ohio.edu/engineering.

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Media Contacts: Russ College Director of External Relations Colleen Girton, (740) 593-1488 or girtonc@ohio.edu; or Media Specialist Jack Jeffery, (740) 597-1793

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