Hodson pilots KSU to 2nd in 4-day air race
Tonya Hodson, formerly of Marion, and co-pilot Nicole Lordemann placed second in the collegiate division of the 4,000 nautical mile cross-country Air Race Classic, an all-female competition honoring women in aviation.
“It was four straight days of drive and focus on doing the best we can,” Hodson said.
Hodson and Lordemann are students in the Kansas State University-Salina professional pilot program. Lordemann, a senior who participated in the race last year was junior Hodson’s mentor.
“I did all the flying, she did all the behind the scenes everything — communications, weather, navigation, everything,” Hodson said. “She was the aircraft commander and I was the pilot.”
The pair met in class this spring, when Hodson learned about the Air Race Classic, but they never flew together until they stepped into the cockpit of their Cessna Skyhawk 172S at the start of the race June 19 in Lake Havasu, Ariz.
“Two days after finals she left for an internship in California,” Hodson said. “We were on the phone probably five hours a week for three weeks. We talked about our strategies. It was kind of a challenge to make it work.”
“It’s important to be able to communicate with your co-pilot,” Lordemann said. “We were fortunate that our personalities blended well. There were times that we could almost read each other’s minds.”
Weather became an obstacle the second day when they tried to leave Columbus, Neb. and were forced to turn back.
“We’d flown one leg and had hoped to get two more. Everyone else had buttoned up their airplanes, and we were still there thinking maybe we had chance,” Hodson said.
Airplane weight was a critical factor, and they calculated everything down to the ounce, including what clothes and personal items they could take with them on the plane. The ground crew at the airport in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. learned firsthand how precise those calculations were.
“We got out to the airport that morning and they had put more fuel onboard than we calculated we needed,” Hodson said. “They were kind enough to siphon seven gallons of fuel.”
When Hodson and Lordemann finished the race June 22 at Batavia, Ohio, their plane was immediately impounded, and it would be another two days before they learned the results.
“That was an emotional roller coaster. We got a call we had a penalty. The very first flyby I was too high,” Hodson said. More encouraging news soon followed.
“Saturday morning we got a call our aircraft was going to be inspected. Anyone who gets that call was likely in the top 10, Hodson said.
Hodson and Lordemann were the first K-State team to place in the top ten in the overall standings, finishing eighth among the 48 entries. Hodson also received an individual honor.
“I’ve been asked to sit on the Air Race Classic panel at the national Ninty-nines conference,” Hodson said. The Ninety-nines is an international organization for women pilots founded by Amelia Earhart. Hodson said she will be sharing her experience as a first-time racer.
Hodson started flying in 1990, and her maroon Stearman biplane was a familiar sight in the skies above Marion for many years. She entered the professional pilot program at K-State-Salina in 2011.
“I went with my passion, I went with my heart,” Hodson said.
She plans to graduate in 2013, and wants a career flying jets. Hodson said it doesn’t matter whether she flies for a commercial airline or pilots a corporate jet. “Flying is so unique, so freeing, and they’ll be paying me to fly,” she said.