118 women pilots set to compete in air race

The field is set for the 41st Air Race Classic (ARC), the annual all-women cross-country airplane race.

Fifty-four teams, consisting of 118 women pilots from across the country and around the world, will take off Tuesday, June 20, 2017, from Frederick, Maryland, for a 2,648-mile sprint across the United States that ends Friday, June 23, 2017, in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

This year, the ARC counts several aviation celebrities among the racers: U.S. national aerobatics champion Debby Rihn-Harvey and Ariel Tweto, star of the Discovery channel show “Flying Wild Alaska.”

The oldest race of its kind in the nation, the Air Race Classic traces its roots to the 1929 Women’s Air Derby, in which Amelia Earhart and 19 other female pilots raced from Santa Monica, Calif., to Cleveland, Ohio. That contest, known as the Powder Puff Derby, marked the beginning of women’s air racing in the United States.

“The ARC board of directors and volunteers have been hard at work preparing for our 41st race,” said Air Race Classic President Lara Gaerte. “We look forward to welcoming back veteran racers and meeting new competitors at this year’s start.”

This year’s course will take racers through 14 states, from the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the far northern reaches of the Continental United States to the high desert of New Mexico.

Teams will depart beginning at 8 a.m. June 20 from Frederick Municipal Airport, taking off one after another, 30 seconds apart. From there, the field will spread out as faster planes move to the head of the pack.

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At each of the eight intermediate stops — Coshocton, Ohio; Indianapolis, Indiana; Decorah, Iowa; Bemidji, Minnesota; Spencer, Iowa; Abilene, Kansas; Ardmore, Oklahoma; and Plainview, Texas — teams will execute high-speed flybys over a timing line as they race against the clock.

Faster planes may cover the course in only two days; slower teams may not arrive at the Terminus, Santa Fe Municipal Airport, until moments before the arrival deadline at 5 p.m. on June 23.

The 54 teams of two or three pilots will have four days to complete the course, flying normally aspirated, piston-powered airplanes in visual flight conditions during daylight hours.

Pilots and copilots must have at least 100 hours as pilot-in-command in order to qualify for the race; one of them must have at least 500 hours as pilot-in-command or a current instrument rating. If they wish, the pilot and copilot may bring along a teammate, who must hold at least a student pilot certificate.

Fourteen colleges or universities are fielding teams this year: Auburn University, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona; Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Prescott; Florida Institute of Technology; Indiana State University; Kent State University; Lewis University; Liberty University; Middle Tennessee State University; Purdue University; The Ohio State University; University of North Dakota, Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology, and Western Michigan University. Auburn is participating for the first time, as is Ohio State, with a team flying in noncompetition class.

This year’s racers hail from 35 states and six foreign countries: Cyprus, Trinidad and Tobago, UK, France, New Zealand and Venezuela.

For some competitors, the Air Race Classic is a family affair. This year’s field includes two multi-generational teams, with mothers and daughters racing together.

One of the collegiate teams this year is piloted by a racer who used to fly the ARC with her grandmother and aunt. Now, she is competing against them.

Because each plane receives a unique handicap, teams are racing against their own best time, not against one another. This creates a level playing field, so slower planes can compete against faster aircraft on an equal basis. Teams strategize to play the elements, holding out for better weather or seeking more favorable winds, to beat their handicap by the greatest margin.

Official standings aren’t determined until after the last team has crossed the finish line – the last arrival at the Terminus may, in fact, be the winner.

Prizes for the ARC are valued at more than $16,500 and include medallions, trophies and cash awards.

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