Today is award day! More than 100 women are counting the hours, rehashing the race legs, regretting the if-onlys, celebrating the successes. Who will place first? Who will rank in the top ten? Who will win one of the many other awards? We find out tonight at the ARC Awards Banquet. The first question the judges asked us when we met yesterday was whether we’d had fun. Absolutely! The AOPAngels had a blast, worked hard, honed our skills, learned a great deal, and made many like-minded friends. That’s winning on many levels.
While a handful of racers are highly competitive, most of us were racing for the challenge, the fun, the camaraderie. It was a privilege to meet so many skilled women pilots from all over the world, and to celebrate the love of flying we share. Though we were first-time racers, and had a great Mother Bird, we Angels took a team or two under our wings, as well. Once, while we were making good time at altitude, we could hear a couple of teams below us at 2500 bemoaning the heat, the rough ride, and the 30-knot headwind. We debated whether to let them in on our secret. Finally, we decided to put on our halos. “This is Team 43, AOPAngels. We have a tailwind and smooth, cool air at 8500. Come on up, girls.” To say our transmission was appreciated is an understatement. We haven’t heard the end of it. Life’s not always about being first; it’s about being the best we can be.
Thanks for sharing our flying adventure. AOPAngels, over and out.
Camaraderie blossomed among the racers last night as we celebrated our arrivals in Santa Fe on the party deck of the lovely Drury Hotel. Today, though, we are back to business. Aircraft inspections run all morning in race number sequence, and later we receive our race scores. Although we did receive a race score report each night summarizing our flight legs for the day, it did not include penalties for any flight deviations or fly-by mistakes. We Angels are not expecting any, but we will see. The judges go to great lengths to insure equity and fairness, and the race is run with very high standards and strict rules. We can voice our questions when we meet with them at our scheduled appointment this afternoon, and also at the first-time racer debrief.
Santa Fe, itself, is a pleasant surprise for us. Art flourishes in all forms: sculpture, paintings, jewelry, hand-made baskets and other handiwork. Friendly people, excellent food, clear skies and 80 degrees; it’s a haven for all of us needing a recharge.
Leaving Hale County Airport in Texas at sun up was the best decision we could have made! We were off the ground in cool temperatures and found a sweet tailwind that was not forecast. Temperatures actually cooled to the 60s as we neared New Mexico, another wonderful boost to our aircraft performance. Eagle Eye Wivell and Captain Luz were up front, looking, looking, looking for the elusive Sandia Airpark in Edgewood, New Mexico, blending like a chameleon with the terrain. About four miles out, they spotted it and set up for the fly-by. “We’re past the timing line!” Eagle Eye called and we all whooped! Climbing out to the north, we set our course for Santa Fe, taking our time since the race clock stopped at Sandia. Our Mother Bird, Lin Caywood met us at the door of the hotel in Santa Fe, congratulating us on flying an excellent race. Awards? Prizes? We will find out Sunday at the final banquet.
Angel impressions: Was it worth it? Absolutely! We learned a lot about several things: First, synergy. We found our groove in the cockpit and stuck with it, using our best skills to team advantage. And we honed our decision-making abilities, considering our options the night before each leg, talking extensively with weather briefers each morning, and calling flight service along the way. Speaking for myself: I scraped off a lot of rust from years on the ground, and now my skills are beginning to shine, again. Paula, a new pilot, considers the actual experience of flying in high terrain with high density altitude invaluable. “You can only learn so much from a book,” she remarked. Paula and I did our share of flying, but knew our ace for the difficult fly-by maneuvers was Captain Luz, who collapsed on the FBO couch in Santa Fe. “Now I can have coffee,” she sighed.
Hale County Airport (PVW) sits at 3,374 feet msl. By the time we approached, the outside air temperature was 99 degrees and the density altitude, 6,500. Eagle Eye Wivell was busy running numbers in the back seat deciding whether we needed the longer runway, while we held our Skylane steady at our stealth altitude. The airport was easy to spot with its beautiful repaved runways. Radio Queen (that’s me) made the fly-by calls for runway 31, 4,000 feet long. However, the winds favored runway 22 with 5,997 feet; much better for a potential long float. It was a good exercise, but we needn’t have worried; Captain Luz, aka Crosswind Mama, set us down in the first quarter of the runway because she’s just that good.
We felt like celebrities when Pete Laney, former Speaker of the House in Texas greeted us with a warm Texas welcome! And then none other than Dianna Stanger flew in with her gorgeous L-139 jet warbird. Dianna is the Safety Officer on the Air Race Classic Executive Board. She and her team, The Flying Aces, have won the Air Race Classic twice, in 2012 and 2014 flying a Cirrus SR22, and she turned the $5,000 winnings into scholarships for women to pursue careers in an aviation-related field. Texas! Big-hearted hospitality! Thanks, PVW.
We launched from Bemidji this morning and found a sweet spot. Smooth air, cool temperatures, and a steady tailwind were a celebrated change of events! We landed at Spencer without a hitch to another warm Iowa welcome, complete with plenty of snacks, baked goods, and prizes donated by local businesses. These wonderful FBOs and fellow aviators supporting us make this race so much fun. So, after enjoying a leisurely break, now what? Do we stay or do we continue? We are watching the big weather picture, from Tropical Storm Cindy in the Gulf to the local passing thunderstorms, and debating on the best strategy as we move south toward Oklahoma, then west to Texas and on to Santa Fe where the race ends. The racers are spread out along the route; many stayed in Indianapolis last night because of thunderstorms along the route, some pushed to Decorah, a few of us pushed further to Bemidji, and a handful of fast overachievers made it all the way to Spencer. Remember, we are not really racing against each other; we are racing to beat our own aircraft’s best performance. You can follow the racers on the Air Race Classic map at this link: https://airraceclassic2017.maprogress.com.
It’s go time! The Air Race Classic Racers took off from Frederick in number order starting around 9:00 a.m. We are number 43, so one of the last to launch. Our optimism for making good time on this beautiful day held out for an hour or so, in spite of the prevailing strong headwinds. It’ll get better, we said. We flew the flyby in Ohio and set the heading for our next stop in Indiana. It might get better, we said. Then, a weather front lined up exactly over our course. Are you kidding me? We had to deviate to the west for safety, then pick our way through to the sunny east side of the front. Our ground speed once showed 94 knots. Not bad for a Piper Cub. But we are a Cessna 182 Skylane, hoping to beat our best speed of 143 knots. And so it went, battling headwinds, bump, thump, through Indiana and Iowa. The silver lining, though, was the hangar dinner waiting for us at Decorah, Iowa. A big thanks to Mike Connell of Connell Flying Service. Should we continue to Minnesota, we debated. With storms forecast for tomorrow afternoon in Bemidji, we decided to push through so we could get out in the morning ahead of it. Minnesota! Such a beautiful state! And guess what? The wind died and we flew a magic carpet ride over the lakes the last half hour.
We are drinking from a fire hose, folks. Five briefings this morning left me numb and very glad I’d taken good notes. Briefings included both start and terminus details, route briefings, weather overview, first time racer briefing, and a safety briefing. As far as weather, that high pressure system that’s been marching East should give us a sunny takeoff. Unfortunately, it was preceded by a raging storm front this afternoon, and we were all relieved the forecast possibility of hail never materialized. All fifty racing airplanes tied down at Frederick Municipal Airport got a good washing, but nothing more.
So, here we are, three AOPAngels holed up with our iPads at a secret location, checking weather and wind, planning routes and fuel stops. How far can we go tomorrow? How far do we want to go? What’s the forecast for the middle of the country later in the week? All important things to weigh as we plan our strategies. And let’s not forget the two most important things: Have fun. Remember the cookies.
What’s better than a catered picnic at a baseball game? A four-plane formation flight over the field in your honor! The AOPAngels were especially thrilled knowing the pilots were friends and coworkers, all of whom are cheering the Air Race Classic racers on. The officials of Nymeo Field at Harry Grove Stadium in Frederick, Maryland called all the racers to the field, sharing with the crowd the history of the race and the challenging 2017 route amid cheering and clapping. Wow. So special.
This morning was business – the first of two race briefings covering topics on safety, scoring, and airspace along the race route. Most teams, including mine, spent the afternoon flight planning. Tonight, we had the privilege of attending the Start Banquet – a formal send-off organized by the Sugarloaf 99s that included recognition of race sponsors, staff, volunteers, an intriguing keynote presentation, raffle prizes, and a mouth-watering buffet.
Tomorrow is the final race briefing and the last day for teams to plan their route strategies before take off. The weather is looking pretty good for our Tuesday morning launch with a high pressure system moving our way. The winds have everyone’s attention, though, as we struggle with how to coax the best ground speed out of a likely headwind.
“Wings out, now, like this,” Dee Bond demonstrated at the end of the masking tape runway, spreading her arms wide for young Abby. “Now, let’s ask Tower for clearance to take off.” Hannah Burright, playing air traffic controller, cleared them and they jogged down the 12-foot runway, banking right for crosswind, then downwind. “Now, ask tower if we can land,” Dee whispered. “Cleared to land,” Hannah obliged and Abby slid on her knees, setting down smoothly on the centerline behind Dee. Onlookers applauded and other kids lined up for turns. This community event for youth, held today at AOPA’s National Aviation Community Center in Frederick, MD, gave Air Race Classic racers a chance to meet kids and families in the community who are interested in aviation. Dee flew in for the race all the way from Pukekohe, New Zealand, and this is her seventh race. Hannah is from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Prescott, AZ campus and is here for her second race. These ladies and many other racers and volunteers spent the afternoon talking with children about flying, autographing their ARC programs, and sharing much excitement about the upcoming race. In the midst of the fun, we were joined by Ariel Tweto, of the TV show, “Flying Wild Alaska,” who arrived about 2:00. She’s one of us for the week, teaming up with Mary Wunder of Collegeville, PA. Mary’s a veteran racer, gearing up for her 10th race. Here’s to flying wild, ladies, though we’re keeping it in the Lower 48 for now!
They’re making a list and checking it twice. No, not Santa’s elves; it’s the aircraft inspectors checking off items on the Air Race Classic Start Checklist. Items include FAA placards, documents (AROW), airframe data plate, ARC race number decal, ELT, NavCom and transponder, altimeter, lights, tie-down equipment (for tying down on grass), and more. Once the inspectors are done, they will impound the airplane until race start, which is Tuesday, June 20, at 8 am Eastern Time. Not only can’t racers fly after the inspection is complete, but neither can we access our aircraft without official escorts; all in an effort to keep it fair and square and prevent any opportunity for a post-inspection advantage. After 41 years of races, the officials have seen all the tricks!
We also completed our pilot credentials check: Current medical certificate, pilot certificate, logbooks up to date, current flight review, necessary endorsements. We are all good! Now on to the fun, team-building activities. Tonight is movie night at AOPA’s National Aviation Community Center, 296 Bucheimer Rd, Frederick, MD 21701, and the public is invited to join us for “Beyond the Powder,” which tells the story of the first 1929 women’s air race, then known as the Powder Puff Derby, with documentary footage from the 2014 Air Race Classic.
Powder Puff Derby? Wow. We’ve come a long way, gals!