Starting Tuesday, former Winlock High school valedictorian Amanda Suter, right, will fly with teammate Katja Jourdan in the Air Race Classic, a four-day cross-country race. Both women are licensed pilots studying at Jacksonville University in Florida.
Racing motorcycles isn’t enough anymore for former Winlock High School valedictorian Amanda Suter — now she’s taking to the skies.
The 22-year-old U.S. Naval officer-in-training will compete in the 2013 Air Race Classic — a three-day, 2,128-mile race that starts Tuesday in Pasco, Wash., and ends Friday in Fayetteville, Ark. The race is an annual all-female-pilot event in which competitors try to beat their own best speed by the biggest margin (based on a timed handicap flight) in the plane of their choice.
Suter and teammate Katja Jourdan, a fellow student at Jacksonville University in Florida, will fly together as pilot and co-pilot in a borrowed Cirrus SR20. The single-engine, low-wing plane seats four and has a glass cockpit.
The duo will be flying sixth out of 47 teams competing for the $5,000 first prize, $2,000 second prize and $2,000 third prize. Prizes also will be awarded for each leg of the race, which dates back to 1929, when female pilots weren’t allowed to race against men.
Air Race competitors don’t have to land for each of the eight intermediate stops between Washington and Arkansas — instead, they can fly by the airports at 200 to 500 feet. They may fly as many legs of the race each day as they want, but only during daylight hours, and they must adhere to visual flight rules (they can’t fly into the clouds). Because the weather tends to worsen as the day progresses, the pilots tend to get an early start and then spend the night in a motel, Suter said.
Suter, a licensed private pilot and avid skydiver with 161 jumps under her belt, said she’s a little worried about flying over mountain ranges because neither she nor Jourdan has done it before. They’ll have to pick the best winds, altitude and weather to set out in, she said.
“It’s really exciting just getting this opportunity to be able to log all these free flight hours as well as just the experience in general. I can’t think of any other time I would do something like this,” said Suter, who will become a Naval officer in May after graduating college, and then she’ll attend Naval flight school.
Suter, whose parents are George and Raylene Suter of Winlock, has been an adrenaline junkie and gearhead for years. She began skydiving at age 16, raced motorcycles and ATVs, played basketball and skateboarded. In high school, she wanted to work on airplanes, but because there wasn’t a training facility nearby, she studied auto mechanics at Lower Columbia College instead.
After graduating in 2009 with an associate’s degree, Suter wanted to attend a four-year college but couldn’t afford tuition. Because she’d been valedictorian of her Winlock class, she was able to attend Centralia College for free for the 2009-2010 school year, during which she studied engineering.
Thinking the only way to pay for college was to join the military, Suter went to a Navy recruiting office to enlist. But when the recruiter learned of her stellar academic record, he encouraged her to apply for a Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps scholarship, which she received.
In August 2010, she entered Jacksonville University, where she’s working toward her commercial pilot’s license and an aviation business management degree. She’s minoring in Naval science and physics.
By the time she completes two years of Naval flight school, she’ll owe the Navy eight years of service, she said.
“At that point, I might as well do 20 years and then retire,” Suter said.
She enjoys being a pilot because “I like that feeling of getting over obstacles and feeling I’m in charge of this machine,” she said. “I kind of like the dangers and responsibility of it at the same time. … No flight is ever the same, so you never get bored of it.”