All posts tagged 'Female Pilots'

Behind the Scenes at the Air Race Classic

Last Monday I had the opportunity to be a small part of history. 50 teams participating in an air race dating back to 1929 were landing at an airport right in my backyard and I had the opportunity to visit and help as they arrived. As the all-female Air Race Classic came to their third stop along the 2,200 NM route, Clark County Airport in Jeffersonville, Indiana, a small army had gathered to welcome them, provide them with food, fuel, and transportation to hotels. I was a volunteer "greeter," meeting the racers as they came into the airport and providing them with answers to any questions that had about operations. Most importantly, I directed them to the restrooms and food.

The Air Race Classic had not been in the area since 1981, so spirits were high as many people worked hard to make this the best stop of their trip. In addition to an abundance of food and desserts provided by UPS, racers were offered complimentary massages and transportation to their hotels. The stop had a Kentucky Derby theme, so several volunteers wore colorful derby hats. The men’s restroom had a sign saying "Fillies (Women); Men’s Restroom Outside," to accommodate the 123 women who would be flying in.

Special accommodations had to be made for the 123 women flying in.

Preparations for this day started almost an entire year ago. Once the route for the race was announced, Honaker Aviation teamed up with several local pilots and organizations to gather volunteers and create a game plan for the day the racers arrived. It was difficult to predict how weather would affect the day from months away, so Stop Chair Amy Bogardus prepared for every possible outcome. An online scheduling system through Sign Up Genius was set up with slots for Timers, Greeters, Transporters, Hospitality, and Stuff to Bring. Time slots were available for each task for Monday-Thursday. The organizers anticipated racers being able to spend the night and leave out Tuesday, but with the unpredictable weather it was best for there to be too many volunteers than too few.

My time slot was from 3:00 pm – 5:00 pm but I ended up staying until 6:00 pm. My younger sister has recently taken an interest in aviation, so I brought her along to meet all of the Ninety-Nines who were volunteering and to experience the race. I had been watching the racers make their way towards our stop since they took off in the morning through the live tracking at Excitement was building as I arrived at the airport and watched the same live tracker from a large TV in the command room. All volunteers were given bright yellow arm bands to identify themselves, and we were ready for racers to begin flying in.

Stop organizers and spectators watched the live feed of aircraft flying in all morning, ready to serve as soon as they arrived.

The first few racers came in at a moderate pace, having left the last airport sooner than the others. After an hour or so of airplanes steadily coming in 10 minutes apart, the bulk of the racers came and it was amazing to see them doing a high speed pass and landing one after another. Because the race is judged on a handicap speed, the only time that the racers had to beat was their own.

The first few arrivals enjoy food provided by UPS.

My sister commented on how young many of the collegiate racers looked, as most of them are in their early 20s. I could see in her face that her dream of becoming a pilot seemed more and more realistic as she saw these shining examples of female pilots casually walking into the airport from their aircraft. It was different for her from hearing about my piloting adventures and actually being at an airport and experiencing the sights and sounds. The entire drive home she excitedly spoke about how she was beginning to find her purpose in life, and that becoming a pilot and flying medical missions was her dream.

I had an amazing experience volunteering at the Air Race Classic, and all racers said that the Clark County stop was well done and efficient. A huge thank you to every single volunteer, organizer, and sponsor for making the day incredible for everyone.

Air Racing is not only for the Boys

The official route of the 2014 Air Race Classic shown in Max-Trax -yellow flags indicate nearby airports with the lowest fuel prices.

Now that I am a licensed pilot (passed my checkride on the 12th of May!) it’s time to start moving towards the next step in my aviation career. I’m beginning my instrument training at a flight university this fall, but I have big plans besides that. One dream that I have had for years is to race in the all-female air derby, the Air Race Classic. Seeing as this year’s race kicks off on the 16th, this seems like the perfect time to share information about this great competition.

Between the 16th and the 19th of this month, 52 teams of female aviators will take flight to compete in one of the most thrilling and fun events in general aviation. Competitors from all over the world come together and race during this event that is enjoyable for ladies at all levels of flight experience. Since the first female Powder Puff Derby in 1929, the 3 day flying marathon has enticed thousands to participate. This year teams will fly a route that goes from Concord, California to New Cumberland, Pennsylvania.

The rich history of this event is too much for one blog post, but it is important to note the social impact caused by the creation of the race. Participants in the first race included Amelia Earhart, Louise Thaden, and Thea Rasche, amongst other legendary aviatrixes. The social stigma against female pilots slowly dissolved with every race thereafter. Despite several complications with aircraft, and the unfortunate death of one of the racers, the first race paved the way for future female air racers.

It is inspiring to think about all the hard work and preparation the pilots must go through. Months of planning lead up to 3 packed days of racing and competition. The honor of racing is perhaps one of the most sought after achievements for the modern female pilot. Many teams need a little help covering the cost of the race, and will acquire sponsors from local businesses or organizations. A favorite means of fundraising is hosting an airplane wash, or to post logos of their sponsors on the racing airplane itself.

This race is not simply a competition of "who gets there first." Each aircraft is given a certain handicap groundspeed that it is rated at, and racers must exceed this speed in order to gain a higher ranking. They must take advantage of weather, thermals, altitudes, and essentially fly the "perfect cross-country" in order to win. In theory, the last person to arrive at the finish line could be the winner.

I know several ladies from my local chapter of the Ninety-Nines who have raced in the past. They recall it fondly, and greatly encourage me to continue pursuing my dream of being a racer. I know that one day I will, but for now I am looking forward to hearing about this year's winners!

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