Four young women from Auburn’s Professional Flight program have brought home yet another win for the University.
The group participated in this year’s recent Air Race Classic, a transcontinental flying competition exclusively for female aviators.
This year, 50 teams competed in the event, including the War Eagle women's blue team — piloted by Sierra Hardwick and Mattie McKenna — and the War Eagle women's orange team — piloted by Kendall Higdon and Caitlyn Miller.
“It’s just an incredible opportunity,” Miller said. You’re competing against a bunch of other female pilots. It’s awesome to have that camaraderie and the opportunity to pick their brain and hear about their experiences."
The competition’s 90-year tradition began in 1929 with such legends as Amelia Earhart. Although it has changed titles throughout the years, the Air Race Classic continues to welcome female pilots between the ages of 17 and 90 from a variety of backgrounds.
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"Some of them have been flying the air race for 20 years. We met a pilot who was 90 years old and flying in this race," Miller said. "You have people from all different experiences and all walks of life. It’s just an incredible experience to be able to do that alongside other colleges, other Auburn students, as well as other people who already fly professionally."
Competitors had four days to make the 2,500-mile journey from Jackson, Tennessee, to Welland, Ontario, making stops at each of the eight legs.
The orange team placed No. 1 in collegiate and No. 2 overall, as well as achieving the fastest time for Cessna plane category.
“I think we definitely surprised ourselves," Miller said. "Along the route, we knew that we were being very strategic and staying to get better tailwinds, but of course when they called names at the final awards banquet, it [was] surprising for everyone."
The blue team placed in the top five in three of the legs of the trip, and No. 15 overall.
“We definitely had a lot a preparation going into it,” Hardwick said. “... You really have to know your airplane to fly in a race like this. You need to be confident about what you’re doing at all parts.”
Despite the serious competition, the Auburn aviators said they had lots of fun, and got to know many other pilots. One thing that stood out about the four days was the cooperation among all the competitors. They would discuss weather conditions, lend advice and give each other rides to hotels or airports. The women in this industry work together, Hardwick said.
“Even though it’s a competition, the people that you meet are so supportive,” Higdon said. “And the connections you make are amazing. You come out with a lot of friends, not really competitors.”
Ultimately, both orange and blue teams agreed that this event had been a great teaching experience.
Higdon said the competition forced the women to make decisions on their own, learning in real time.
"As a team we didn’t have outside help," Higdon said. "It was a lot of personal growth as a pilot: building those qualities you need to have such as being flexible, making those right decisions, learning from those mistakes you might make. It basically develops you so much in just four days.”
This was Auburn’s third year participating in the Air Race Classic. Previously, there had been only one team that was able to attend, but this year’s Tiger Giving Day made a second team possible.
“We would not have had this opportunity if it wasn’t for the incredible Auburn Family," Higdon said. "The Alumni, professors, the aviation center, the College of Liberal Arts — everyone that kind of grouped together to make this happen for both teams. It was incredible. This experience is something we’ll never forget, and we’re proud to bring home that win for Auburn.”
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