As a veteran of this and other cross-country air races, I was thrilled to participate in the Air Race Classic starting events in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
The Air Race Classic has its roots in the first Women’s National Air Derby, held in 1929, when twenty female pilots set out to prove to the world that air racing was not just a sport for men. Beginning in Santa Monica, California they flew over 2,800 miles to the finish line—the National Air Races in Cleveland, Ohio. From that event, the Ninety-Nines were formed, as ninety-nine of the then 117 licensed female pilots organized to promote flying, friendship, and freedom around the world. Air Race Classic, Inc. continues the tradition of this historic race.
With airplanes and logbooks impounded for meticulous inspection by members of AWAM (Association for Women in Aviation Maintenance), anticipation and excitement built over the weekend as the 51 race teams gathered for three days of pre-race briefings. During the briefings I shared with racers how to get the most out of ForeFlight features such as our new weather imagery for better forecast planning, user waypoints, and annotating taxi diagrams with race time lines. It was fun to share my experience in what goes into creating a strategy for this race.
Each airplane is ‘handicapped’ to provide the best way possible to make all airplanes equally competitive. During the handicap flight the plane is flown full throttle on a rectangular course at a specific altitude. Vents are closed and engines are leaned for best performance. This levels the playing field and so the race becomes one of pilot skill and strategy rather than the raw speed of the fastest airplane, as it was in 1929.
As an Air Race Classic racer myself, I can tell you that the best strategy is to scrutinize the weather each day of the race and capture the best possible winds on the best possible days. Sometimes that means not flying on a day of headwinds if more favorable weather is forecast. As long as the course is completed in the four days allowed, how many of the legs are flown each day is up to each race team. There are some other fine-tuned race strategies I have used, but you’ll have to be my race partner to find out what those are! My ultimate advice: fly straight, fly fast.
On Monday, the clock started against the 111 racers. The day VFR race legs total more than 2,400 miles. The race route is different each year; this year’s path draws a sort of star pattern, with the required timed legs going first to Hickory, NC, then Connellsville, PA, Jeffersonville, IN, Kalamazoo, MI, Lawrenceville, IL, Kirksville, MO, Union City, TN, and Gadsden, AL, and crossing the finish line at Fairhope, AL. Those who crossed the starting timeline have until 5:00 pm EDT Thursday to finish the course.
Engineers and rocket scientists who work for companies like Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic, airline pilots, and airport managers, artists, singers, veterinarians, and retirees, and more people with fascinating backgrounds are in this race. Seventeen collegiate teams from around the country are vying not only for the coveted first place prize, but the chance to finish ahead of all other competing schools.
Unfortunately not all registered teams arrived for the start, as weather kept four race teams from reaching Fredericksburg. Another nerve-trying situation occurred at the start when Team 54, Terry Kane and Roxanne Ostrowski, returned from the starting line with a low voltage light. To remain contenders, they had three hours to secure the parts, complete repairs, and fly the timeline to start the race. I’m happy to report that they beat the clock and are still in the competition!
As the race teams navigate through the challenging race course, Team ForeFlight sends its best wishes for a safe and exciting adventure! Find out more about the race teams here, and join us as we track their progress here.