Six Embry-Riddle Pilots Compete In Air Race Classic


Daytona Beach, FL ­— Whether their interest in flying was sparked by other pilot family members or from listening to commercial jets and F-16s roar overhead, six female Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University pilots have their eyes set on one goal –  winning the 42nd Air Race Classic (ARC).

Skillfully maneuvering through unexpected weather and rough terrain, three Embry-Riddle teams will take to the skies to once again try and claim the top collegiate spot on June 19 from Sweetwater, Texas and finish Friday, June 22, in Fryeburg, Maine. Fifty-six teams of 121 pilots from 35 states and Australia, Canada, Colombia, Kenya and New Zealand are in the competition, including 18 colleges or universities.

The more than 2,600-mile, four-day race will take two teams from the Daytona Beach Campus and one from the Prescott, Arizona Campus through 15 states. Embry-Riddle Prescott, which has participated every year since 2009, finished first and second in the collegiate competition last year and second and fifth overall. An Embry-Riddle Daytona Beach team has participated every year since 2007, finishing five times as the No. 1 team in the collegiate division and first in the overall competition in 2016.

Considered the oldest race of its kind in the U.S., the Air Race Classic dates back to the 1929 Women’s Air Derby, also known as the Powder Puff Derby, where Amelia Earhart and 19 other female pilots raced from Santa Monica, California, to Cleveland, Ohio. The ARC is the ultimate test for piloting skill and aviation decision-making for female pilots of all ages and walks of life from university students and commercial airline pilots to former military and aviation enthusiasts.


Riddle Racers Gold Team # 31

  • Pilot Mia Hallgring - Her second Air Race Classic, Hallgring graduated in May with a bachelor’s in Aeronautical Science. She is from Little Compton, Rhode Island and has her Certified Flight Instructor/Instrument (CFI/CFII,) and multi commercial ratings with more than 500 hours. Recently finishing a flight operations internship with Delta Air Lines, her interest in aviation started as a child hearing stories from her father, who had his private pilot license. She hopes to fly for Delta and the Air National Guard and is a civilian contracted instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. “I enjoy flying the race in order to represent my university, gain personal aviation experience, and meet many amazing female pilots in the process.”


  • Co-pilot Jody Brandel - Brandel, an Aeronautical Science senior, who is finishing her last class this summer after walking in the May 2018 commencement, grew up next to Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina. She points to the roar of the F-16s that inspired her to “make the sky my home.” “I have been following this dream ever since, becoming the first in my family to pursue a career in aviation.” While at Embry-Riddle, she’s earned her single & multi-engine commercial flight certifications with an instrument rating. She has about 300 hours with just over 100 as pilot-in-command. She said the Air Race is a great way to exhibit her skills in the cockpit.


Riddle Racers Blue Team # 32

  • Pilot Alice Novatnak - From Mountain Top, Pennsylvania, Novatnak is an aeronautical science senior. She started flying at 15 years old with her brother as her instructor for her private and instrument ratings. Since high school, she has earned her commercial pilots license, multi-engine add-on, certified flight instructor/instrument rating. A flight instructor at Embry-Riddle, she’s looking forward to flying across the U.S. and meeting other female pilots across the country with the same passion. “I enjoy the fact that the sky is not the limit and being able to see the world from a different point of view!”


  • Co-pilot Abbey Baltzegar - An Aeronautical Science junior with a minor in Applied Meteorology, Baltzegar is an instrument-rated private pilot working on her commercial license with more than 180 flight hours. From the small town of Neeses, South Carolina, her interest in aviation was sparked by her father who served in the U.S. Air Force. Her ultimate goal is to work for UPS. “I enjoy flying because of the feeling of freedom it gives me.” She’s looking forward to meeting like-minded individuals and gaining experience from the race.


Alternates for the Riddle Racers are Audrey Hallam, a sophomore in the Aeronautical Science program from Napa Valley, California, working on her single-engine commercial license, and Cheyenne Parker, of Montgomery, Texas, an instrument-rated private pilot working on her commercial license and majoring in aeronautical science with a minor in meteorology.


The Thumb Beauts Team #53

  • Pilot Jennifer Lowe – Lowe, of Chicago, competed in last year’s race placing second in collegiate and fifth overall. She recently graduated with a bachelor’s in Aeronautical Science and minor in Meteorology. With just under 300 total hours, she has completed her commercial license with multi rating, instrument rating and a complex endorsement to perform as a pilot-in-command. She decided she wanted to be a pilot after flying for the first time to visit the Embry-Riddle Daytona Campus with her brother, who was a high school senior. She is considering joining and flying for the U.S. Navy and then later using her pilot skills to fight fires “to make a difference in the world while doing what I love.”


  • Co-pilot Brenda Nava – Nava, also from Chicago, is the first in her family to be involved in aviation. A flight instructor at the Prescott Campus, she grew up next to Chicago Midway International Airport which, “awoke in me a deep passion for aviation.” Nava has a bachelor’s in aviation science and aviation management from the University of Dubuque in Iowa. She is honored to be a part of the race, “especially knowing its history and the women who led the path for every female in aviation.”


The Air Race Classic pilots were selected for this prestigious competition by Embry-Riddle College of Aviation administrators from each campus based of their skills, competitive spirit and knowledge of aviation, safety, navigation, meteorology and crew resource management. All Embry-Riddle teams will fly Cessna 172 aircraft from the university’s fleet.

Associate professor Debbie Schaum, associate chair of Applied Aviation Sciences, and her weather support operations class of 15 students will provide weather support to the two Daytona Beach Campus teams. The students study the hazards along the route and the climatology as well as recommend takeoff times and flight levels. Schaum said the students use forecasts and real-time weather to make these recommendations to ensure competitive and safe flights between legs.  Monitoring the Embry-Riddle Daytona aircraft throughout the race, Schaum and her class also communicates with the two teams during the eight intermediate stops along the route.

“We expose these students who are supporting the air race teams to meteorological tools they may not have used before and to complex cross-country flying,” Schaum said. “The students become invested in the outcome because they are keeping these women competitive and ensuring they are safe.”

The class is also supporting the Sky Vixens team with co-pilot, alumna Emmy Dillon, and pilot Tessa Roberts. Dillon was part of the 2016 Daytona Beach Campus team, along with Abbie Pasmore, who won the overall competition and took first place in the collegiate division.

To follow the Prescott Campus teams on social media, visit the Embry-Riddle – Prescott Women's Air Race Group on Facebook, or go to @erauprarc on Instagram. For the Riddle Racers team, go to their Facebook page at For details on this year’s route, go to


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