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Lady Buckeyes soar to second place finish in Air Race Classic

Madi Blackford and Allie Belafsky next to Ohio State's N180SU Cessna
Madi Blackford, left, and Allie Belafsky ahead of their departure from KOSU

The Lady Buckeyes team of Allie Belafsky and Madi Blackford recently competed in the 46th annual Air Race Classic. Recognized as the epicenter of women’s air racing, the 2023 international competition challenged aviators from all backgrounds on a three-day, cross-country journey. The Buckeyes soared to earn second-place in their class.

“The Air Race Classic has a long tradition of promoting and supporting women in aviation and women as pilots,” said team advisor Shannon Morrison, assistant director, academics and program assessment at The Ohio State University Center for Aviation Studies. “The Lady Buckeyes team of Allie and Madi are continuing these traditions and we are so proud of them!"

This year’s route took competitors from Grand Forks, North Dakota to Homestead, Florida, a 2,684-mile journey that included nine stops along the way. One hundred participants on 42 teams raced against their own best times, rather than each other, requiring strategy to overcome the elements and the performance of high-speed flybys in the race against time.

"The Air Race Classic was both the most challenging and most rewarding experience of my life, from the pre-race planning to the in-flight race time decision-making,” said Belafsky, an aviation management student from the Fisher College of Business. “The competition…challenged me in many ways and helped fine-tune my piloting skills, regional and national weather analysis, aeronautical decision-making and teamwork skills.”

Co-pilot Blackford, an air transportation major from the College of Arts and Sciences, agreed. “The Air Race Classic has pushed every limit that I had as an aviator,” she said. “[It] has greatly prepared me on a professional level by demanding me to think outside the box, make solid decisions in very little time [and] work efficiently under intense conditions.”

Allie Belafsky in flight

The Lady Buckeyes flew an Ohio State Flight Education Cessna 172 and competed in the Electronic Data Monitoring Aircraft class. Their second-place finish in EDMA earned them $750, trophies and certificates. Seventeen other collegiate teams were among competitors across three classes. Full results are linked here.

Both pilots reflected on the competition.

“Overall, racing in the 2023 Women's Air Race Classic was an experience that has forever changed and impacted my life both as a pilot and a woman,” said Blackford. “[M]y hope is that by sharing our experiences we may inspire other young aviators to passionately chase their dreams and prepare them for the amazing and thrilling opportunities that lie ahead in the world of aviation," shared Blackford.

Belafsky was enthusiastic not only about improving her aviator skills, but also meeting other likeminded pilots. “The relationships, both friendships and mentorships, that I have created throughout this journey are the most rewarding part of the race,” she said.

This year marks Ohio State’s fourth time participating in the Air Race Classic, described as the oldest race of its kind in the nation and the ultimate test of piloting skill and aviation decision-making for female pilots of all ages and from all backgrounds.

Madi Blackford during flight

Morrison emphasized the value of the team’s participation and performance. “It is so important that we are able to have a team be a part of this event.”

Belafsky encouraged others to participate. "I would wholeheartedly recommend this race to every female aviator who is willing to put themselves outside of their comfort zone in exchange for the adventure of a lifetime that will shape them into [a] safer, more confident and skillful pilot," she commented.

Ohio State students who have an interest in competing next year should send an email to Morrison at

by Holly Henley, communications specialist

Category: Students