Flying Flashes Win Back-to-Back Air Race Classic Titles

Flying Flashes win back to back Air Race Classics

The Flying Flashes have won the 2023 Air Race Classic, claiming back-to-back titles! The team, consisting of Laura Wilson and Peyton Turner, brought home four titles: 1st place Overall Competition Class, 1st place Overall Collegiate Challenge Award, 1st place Fastest Cessna Award, and 1st place Fastest Women in Aviation International (WAI) Team. The competition spans 4 days and includes 10 legs of flying, covering a grand total of 2,685 miles from Grand Forks, North Dakota to Homestead, Florida. 

Wilson and Turner competed alongside 42 other teams, of which 18 were other collegiate competitors. Wilson is a 2022 graduate of Kent State University, and currently works as a Certified Flight Instructor at the KSU Airport. She competed in the 2022 Air Race Classic alongside fellow Kent State Alumni Alex Johnson. Wilson and Johnson won First Place Overall by less than 20 seconds in a Cessna Skyhawk 172SP. They also won the First Place Collegiate Trophy, and the Fastest Cessna award. Turner, a junior Aeronautics major and Honors College student, joined Wilson on the team this year. Wilson and Turner were selected by College of Aeronautics and Engineering faculty and staff members. Each year’s team consists of at least one experienced racer from a prior year. This year, Turner was selected from a group of 26 eligible students after submitting an application and participating in an interview. 

Turner says that the Air Race Classic was “four of my life's most exhilarating, stressful, and most importantly fun days…It puts all of your skills to the test both on the ground and in the air.” Wilson says that this year’s competition posed different challenges than in 2022. “I felt more prepared going into it because I’d done it before and I knew what to expect. Additionally, the pressure was on. Not only was I a returning racer, I was the returning champion. I knew a lot of other racers would be watching me and my university closely.” 

Air Race Classic Flight Path

Wilson recalls that local weather limited the team’s abilities to strategize during the event.  “The race was difficult because of the weather and after the first few days, we cared less about winning and more about making it to the finish…During the second day of the race we were stuck in Nebraska until 5pm because of storms and rain. On the last two days of the race we played catch-up because we fell so far behind.” Turner adds that “The race is usually a game of strategy where we wait for the best winds to accomplish the plane's best performance…while we were in Alabama on the last day of the race we really doubted that we would make it by the 5 pm deadline of the race.”

Brian Neff, Assistant Dean of Flight Operations for the Kent State University Airport, and Carissa Neff, College of Aeronautics and Engineering faculty member, served as advisors for Wilson and Turner throughout the competition. Carissa Neff had formerly participated in the Air Race Classic, representing Kent State at the competition in 2016. Brian Neff said that as advisors, “Carissa and I helped Peyton and Laura with the race preparation, route planning, weather determination, and booking hotels for them when they were done for the day. There are a lot of external pressures during the race, so ultimately Carissa and I were there to keep Peyton and Laura relaxed during the race so they could focus on flying the race and performing at their peak abilities.”

Brian Neff commends Wilson and Turner on how they handled challenging weather conditions throughout the competition. “We debriefed immediately after the race and all agreed that we flew a very safe race, despite the challenges and pressures that naturally occur during the race. It was gratifying to learn that we were able to compete at a high level, while still maintaining a high level of safety.”

“Peyton was an awesome teammate,” says Wilson. “Even in stressful situations, she kept things lighthearted and made me laugh…Peyton is much more outgoing and I am much more laid-back so our personalities complimented each other in the aircraft and while we were socializing with other teams.” Turner echoes this sentiment, sharing that “Laura was an amazing teammate throughout the entire race…even with the stress of the race, we managed to stay light-hearted and had a great time traversing America together.”

Turner believes that the pair’s trust in their abilities were a major contributor to their success in the race. “Before the race, veteran racers said repeatedly to ‘fly your own race’ and until the race began, I did not realize the importance of that statement…as we were caught in Nebraska with storms many people began flying while lightning remained popping up around the route. For a second, I wondered if we were making the right choice to stay, but that was when I realized you must ‘fly your own race’ and trust in your training to make the right decision.”

Wilson, reflecting on being a part of both the 2022 and 2023 winning Air Race Classic Teams, is grateful for the work of her teammates and ground support throughout both competitions. Wilson is also thankful for her flight training experience at Kent State University. “Kent State runs an excellent flight training program, and allows its students to fly in all sorts of weather conditions. We have learned to set our own personal minimums, which was a great tool for me to fall back on during the race…[Winning back to back championships] feels like all of my training so far has paid off and I have proven my skills to myself and others.” In addition to improving her flight skills, Turner is also thankful for the opportunity to set an example for future pilots. “Winning the 2023 competition meant a lot to me. It is a way to inspire young female aviators, a way to represent our college to a wide range of people and show them the great aviators produced here, and finally, it was a way for me to really solidify my skills.”

Wilson will soon be beginning her career at Endeavor Airlines, and Turner will be returning to Kent State in the Fall, with an expected graduation in May 2024. 

POSTED: Thursday, July 13, 2023 10:22 AM
Updated: Wednesday, March 20, 2024 01:28 PM