Liberty Belles Set to Soar in Four-Day, 2,460-Mile Air Race Classic, Representing Liberty University

Share Article

Two teams of female aviators representing Liberty University School of Aeronautics departed from Lynchburg Regional Airport on Monday en route to the annual Air Race Classic, a competition next week that will cover 2,460 miles from Washington to Arkansas.

News Image

The Liberty Belles (left to right): Coach Sarah Morris; team members Jodi Jacob and Megan Grupp; team members Charity Holland and Jessica Dyer; and dispatcher Ariana Knight.

Two teams of female aviators representing Liberty University School of Aeronautics departed from Lynchburg Regional Airport on Monday en route to the annual Air Race Classic, a competition next week that will cover 2,460 miles from Washington to Arkansas.

Liberty Belles’ second-year coach Sarah Morris, who flew on Jacksonville University’s winning team in 2011, said the experience is an adrenaline rush.

“It’s intense flying,” she said. “You’re traveling the country with 45 other (pairs of) women in airplanes, so if you know anything about flying and traffic, people are everywhere.”

Juniors Jodi Jacob and Megan Grupp are piloting a high-wing Cessna Skyhawk; Charity Holland, a School of Aeronautics instructor pilot, and Jessica Dyer, a recent graduate, are operating a low-wing Piper Arrow. Their dispatcher is sophomore Ariana Knight.

The race takes off on June 18 from Tri-Cities Airport in Pasco, Wash., before making its 10th and final landing June 21 at Drake Field Airport in Fayetteville, Ark. (Follow the Liberty Belles on their Facebook page.)

The Air Race Classic debuted in 1977, reviving the female aviation spirit inspired by the 1929 Powder Puff Air Derby featuring Amelia Earhart. The top 10 teams receive cash prizes totaling $15,000.

“Historically, aviation was male-dominated for many, many years,” said retired U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. David Young, dean of Liberty’s SOA, who noted women now make up 15 percent of the school’s students. “We’ve been truly blessed with the quality of the ladies we’ve had in our program.”

Last year was the Liberty Belles’ first time entering the race, placing 27th and 28th out of 42 finishing teams.

“This race is just one factor in their development,” Young said. “But it’s also encouraging, because other young ladies who are interested in aviation say, ‘Oh, that’s something that I can do. I never dreamed that I could do that.’”

Participants are required to attend pre-race briefings that cover fuel planning, weather, fly-bys, and emergencies. Morris has prepared the Liberty Belles to deal with unexpected weather patterns and adjust their flight schedules accordingly.

“I think the biggest challenge is just making good decisions,” she said. “Every decision is a little bit of a risk. You might lose the opportunity to have good winds and have a better ground speed or you might come up against weather.”

Dyer said she is eager to put her training to the test.

“It’s a lot of thinking ahead, being prepared, thinking ‘OK, we’re going to wake up at the crack of dawn, we’re going to be out at the airport and ready.’ We have so many items we have to do and (the challenge will be) just splitting up the tasks evenly so everything gets done in the shortest amount of time possible,” she said.

Morris said this year’s teams have worked well together to streamline logistics and develop flight plans.

“They’re a great group,” she said. “They’re eager to learn. They have a lot of creative ideas and we’re just kind of open to anything that will make us go faster.”

The race is open to fixed-wing aircraft ranging from 145 to 570 horsepower, with a handicap system leveling the field.

The teams have four days to complete the 10-stage course that travels over Washington state, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, traversing stretches of the Rocky Mountains.

The first plane to land in Fayetteville, Ark., is not necessarily the winner as total flight time is the determining factor. Pilots can take advantage of favorable winds and weather conditions to fly multiple stages on one day and fewer the next, but must land at their day’s destination by sunset each night.

Liberty University School of Aeronautics will have another chance to promote women in aviation when it hosts the last of this month’s three “Women Can Fly” events in Virginia on June 29 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at its Freedom Aviation hangar at Lynchburg Regional Airport. The event is co-sponsored by Virginia’s Department of Aviation, Ninety-Nines, Inc. (an international organization of women pilots), Lynchburg Regional Airport, Freedom Aviation, and Liberty University.

“We’re encouraging young ladies, all the way from the age of 8 and up to come out,” Young said. “We’re going to be giving them flights, simulator rides, touring the tower, teaching about aircraft maintenance and all aspects of aviation.”

The event is free, but girls or women who wish to take a free ride, must register in advance at

Fundraising for the Liberty Belles’ participation in the Air Race Class is ongoing as estimated cost for both teams to compete is $20,000. Contact Dave Young at (434) 455-4901 or by email at dlyoung(at)liberty(dot)edu to donate.

Victory FM contributed to this report. Listen to a radio interview at

About Liberty University:
Liberty University, founded in 1971, is the largest private, nonprofit university in the nation, the largest university in Virginia, and the largest Christian university in the world. More than 100,000 students attend classes on its 6,800-acre residential campus and study in its thriving online education program.

Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

Johnnie Moore
Visit website