Kent State Pilots Compete in the USA’s Only Air Race for Women

The first pair of Kent State University female pilots will race 2,700 miles across the country in an effort to win the historic Air Race Classic.

The competition is the oldest of its kind with roots that can be traced back to the 1929 Women’s Air Derby, in which Amelia Earhart and 19 other female pilots raced from California to Cleveland.

This year’s race features 130 women pilots of all ages and all backgrounds, including two from Kent State. Jalia Manga is a flight technology major in Kent State’s College of Applied Engineering, Sustainability and Technology. Carissa Marion is a Kent State flight instructor and graduate of the university.

Manga and Marion will start the race in Prescott, AZ on June 21. They are given four days to make flybys at each en route timing point and then land at the terminus. The course passes through 12 states before ending in Daytona Beach, FL.

Because planes travel at different speeds, each one receives a unique handicap. Instead of racing against each other, the teams are racing against their own best time. They need to strategically plan for the weather in order to beat their handicap by the greatest margin.

Prizes include $16,500 in cash, medallions and trophies.

This is the first year that a Kent State student has participated in the Air Race Classic. The team will be mentored by Lt. Col. Sarah Deal Burrow, who was sponsored by the university in a previous race. Burrow was the first female marine selected for Naval Aviation Training, and the Marine Corps’ first female aviator in 1993. She is also a Kent State alumna (’92), with a Bachelor of Science degree in aerospace flight technology.

The team will fly in a Cessna Sky Hawk awarded to Kent State after receiving the unique distinction as a 2016 Top Hawk university. The aircraft is named Nikki in celebration of the life of Nicole “Nikki” Kukwa, an exemplary Kent State aeronautics student who helped establish the Women in Aeronautics Club, and served as an inspiration to those who knew her. Nikki passed away from leukemia during her junior year. In her honor, a free aeronautics camp for high school girls takes place annually to show Nikki’s continued, positive influence in aeronautics.

Manga and Marion have already left the Kent State University Airport in advance of the race. You can follow their progress on Twitter using #NikkiTheTopHawk.

Photo Caption:
Carissa Marion (left) Jalia Manga (right) are the first female pilot team from Kent State to compete in the Air Race Classic. Follow their progress on Twitter using #NikkiTheTopHawk.

POSTED: Wednesday, June 15, 2016 01:48 PM
Updated: Thursday, December 8, 2022 05:28 PM
Kristin Anderson