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!