Three Polk State College students took to the sky from Lakeland Linder International Airport on a four-day, 2,500-mile journey as participants in the 2022 Air Race Classic.
Emma Othmer and Autumn Richarz competed as The Red Eagles and Kaitlin Conway competed with The Lady Aces alongside teammates Richele Floyd, Scholarship Director for SUN ‘n FUN, and Jensen Dix, a senior at the Central Florida Aerospace Academy and the race’s youngest competitor. They were the only two teams representing Polk County.
The Air Race Classic brings together female pilots ranging in age from 17 to 90 years old and from a variety of backgrounds as students, teachers, airline pilots, air traffic controllers, business owners, and more.
Othmer, Richarz, and Conway – students enrolled in the Polk State Aerospace Program – expressed their excitement and lessons learned from the race that took them all the way to Terre Haute, Indiana.
“It was a lot of fun and gave me real-world application of what flying will consist of outside of a training environment,” Othmer said.
“What inspired us was the learning experience to gain from it,” Richarz added. “During the race, we learned a lot, and we met our goal there – learning was the biggest part about it.”
The Red Eagles placed 22nd out of the 32 teams overall, taking the fourth-place spot in the fifth leg of the race. This success included their plane breaking down and Othmer and Richarz getting a close look at the inner-workings of their aircraft to repair and get back on track.
The Lady Aces also experienced some difficulties, needing to change aircrafts to a non-competition class plane during the race. Conway said the team would have come in 13th place if they were able to complete in their original aircraft.
“When you’re in a training environment or a work environment, you’re not racing in this way,” Conway reflected on her experience with The Lady Aces. “You’re definitely thinking outside of the box and doing things you usually wouldn’t do.”
The students shared how their experience in the Polk State Aerospace Program prepared them for the race and their future careers in aviation. Othmer and Richarz are pursuing the Associate in Science in Pilot Science. Conway holds the AS in Pilot Science from Polk State and is working toward the Bachelor of Science in Professional Science as well as her commercial pilot license.
“My time at Polk State helped me in competing in the race because of the flight planning [and] the risk management side. It made us think about things,” Richarz said.
“I would recommend Polk State to others looking to get into aerospace… I like that it’s a smaller school – it’s a tight community that we have,” Othmer added. “Everything you need is here and it’s affordable. The instructors are great and all the people in administration are great.”
This was the first time Polk State has competed in the Air Race Classic. The event is facilitated by an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization focused on encouraging and educating current and future female pilots, increasing public awareness of general aviation, demonstrating women’s roles in aviation, and preserving and promoting the tradition of pioneering women in aviation.
The Red Eagles garnered support and sponsorships from Executive Jet Center, Sheltair Aviation Services, Winter Haven Regional Airport, and a mystery sponsor.
More information about Polk State Aerospace and opportunities like the Air Race Classic is available at www.polk.edu/aerospace.