Spotlight: Racing in the skies

BY SETH ROBERTS | JULY 02, 2010 7:20 AM

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Minnetta Gardinier stands in a hangar at the Iowa City Municipal Airport, pointing out details on her 1978 Cessna Cardinal Classic airplane.

State-of-the-art flight instruments gleam in the 32-year-old leather cockpit. The wings are dusted with bug guts after a recent flight. A strong headwind during that flight tore off pieces of the plane’s powder-blue paint, revealing a dull aluminum body.

“I hadn’t really intended to buy a plane,” Gardinier said. “But you can’t really take big trips when you rent. If you’re going to fly a significant amount, it’s better to buy.”

Gardinier, the associate dean of recruitment and professional development for the UI Graduate College, has logged approximately 800 hours of flight time in the plane she co-owns with UI biology Professor Daniel Eberl. She said she uses the plane to fly to meetings and other work functions around the country, and she has flown as far as Washington, D.C., and Montana.  

Flying also gives Gardinier the opportunity to blend work with pleasure. She dedicates her research to multiple sclerosis — a disease affecting communication between the nerve cells of the brain and spinal cord — and she has received research support from the National MS Society for several years.

“I found the research interesting,” Gardinier said. “Then, five or six years ago, a good friend of mine from high school and college — her younger sister was diagnosed with MS. And then my friend developed it as well.”

Gardinier soon combined her passions for research and flying. She has donated $8,000 to the MS organization over the past three years through her involvement with the Air Race Classic, a four-day race for women pilots that dates back to 1929.

“A lot of the women raise funds to pay the cost,” Gardinier said. “I think it’s an interesting spin on it to raise money for some other good endeavor.”

Gardinier said most of her funds come from family and friends and that 90 percent of her funds go to the MS group. She is still accepting donations at her racing team’s website.

Terry Carbonell, who organized — and won — the 2010 race, said she is proud of Gardinier’s accomplishments in the air.

“I’m thrilled to see racers flying for a cause,” Carbonell said. “[It] further demonstrates that one person can make a difference, and Minnetta has certainly accomplished that.”

Even with her MS fundraising, Gardinier said, she flies in the Classic mostly for fun.

“I like the element of competition,” she said. “I think the majority of the women do it for the fun of it.”

She is largely responsible for bringing that competition and fun to Iowa City. The 2011 Air Race Classic will begin at the Municipal Airport on June 21.

Gardinier said she is unsure if she will participate in the race because the stress that accompanies such a large event, but she is planning attractions for the pilots.

“The goal is to have 50 planes,” Gardinier said. “The racers arrive the Saturday before the race, so Sunday and Monday, we’ll have seminars. I’d like a youth event with the Children’s Museum, to let them see the planes. We’re going to coordinate community events on that Friday and Saturday.”

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