Three women aviators from Western Michigan University will join 50 other teams of women pilots later this month for the 2017 Air Race Classic, a cross-country race that features top women flyers from around the nation.

Pilot Shelby Satkowiak, a recent WMU graduate from Milo; co-pilot Lauren Quandt, a senior from Grosse Ile, and navigator Maria Walston, a sophomore from Highland; are headed to Maryland this week to prepare for the start of the race on Tuesday, June 20.

The 2017 Air Race Classic spans four days -- competitors cross nine states, more that 2,600 miles -- and ends in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The race route follows a zig-zag path from the east coast, through America's heartland and into west coast mountainous terrain.

This cross-country race dates back to the days of Amelia Earhart -- tracing it roots to the 1929 Women's Air Derby Race -- later known as the Powder Puff Derby. It marked the beginnings of women's air racing in the United States.

The WMU trio, sponsored by the WMU College of Aviation, will complete against both veteran women pilots are other collegiate teams, according to a news release from the university. The three will fly one of the College's Cirrus SR-20 aircraft.

WMU has sponsored teams in 12 previous races since 2000, the university says. This is the first year that WMU has fielded a three-person team in the race.

Satkowiak, a 2013 graduate of Mio AuSable High School, earned a bachelor's degree in aviation flight science from WMU in April. Her experience over changing terrain in last year's race will be an asset, she says.

Co-pilot Quandt, a 2013 graduate of Grosse Ile High School earned her private pilot license two years ago and is a double major in aviation flight science and aviation maintenance technology.

"The goal in this event is simply to go faster than the airplane would normally go," she says.
Navigator Walston, also an aviation flight science major, is a 2016 graduate of the International Academy in White Lake, Michigan. She's been flying for two years and is eager to add the race to her flight experience.

"I'm hoping to race in future years, and this race is an opportunity to see what this is all about," she says. "There's a lot to keep track of and a lot to learn."

If you're interested in learning more about the race, visit the official website.

Regular updates on the trio will be made on the team's Facebook account, and once the race begins, those following the event will be able to trace the team's progress and their exact location here.

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April Stevens is a multi-platform producer at WZZM 13. Have a news tip? Email, visit our Facebook page or Twitter.