Women’s Air Race Classic starts June 24

June 21, 2008

Women’s air racing all started in 1929 with the First Women’s Air Derby. Twenty pilots raced from Santa Monica, CA to Cleveland, OH, site of the National Air Races. Racing continued through the ‘30’s and was renewed again after WWII when the All Women’s Transcontinental Air Race (AWTAR), better known as the Powder Puff Derby, came into being. The AWTAR held its 30th, final and commemorative flight in 1977. When the AWTAR was discontinued, the Air Race Classic, Ltd., (ARC) stepped in to continue the tradition of transcontinental speed competition for women pilots and staged its premier race. The Air Race Classic was reincorporated in 2002 into the Air Race Classic, Inc., a non-profit 501(c)3 organization.

The early air races were the “on to” type, with noon and night control stops, and the contestants more or less stayed together. In that manner, weather and flying conditions were practically the same for each entrant and the race officials could release standings to the media after each day of racing.

The current race routes are approximately 2,400 statute miles in length, and the contestants are usually given four days, flying VFR in daylight hours, to reach the terminus. Each plane is assigned a handicap speed – and the goal is to have the actual ground speed be as far over the handicap speed as possible. The pilots are thus given the leeway to play the elements, holding out for better weather, winds, etc. The objective is to fly the “perfect” cross-country. In this type of race, the official standings cannot be released until the final entrant has crossed the finish line. Actually, the last arrival can be the winner.

Scoring techniques evolved over the years, and in 1952 the AWTAR began using the handicap system of scoring. The Air Race Classic has continued to use this type of scoring throughout its history. The ’29-30’s races flew shorter legs and made more stops than the current races. Now the legs are 280 to 320 statute miles, and seven or eight control stops are designated for either landing or fly-by. The races are open to all women with fixed wing aircraft from 145 to 570 horsepower. In earlier days, the fastest airplane with no specified handicap was in a good position to win, if it held together over the long haul and there was no big navigational error committed. Now the handicapping system is used – each plane flying against its own speed. Supposedly any entry has an equal chance of victory, depending on the accuracy of the handicapping. All participants are true winners in their own right, flying the best possible race.

At a time when some people are inclined to down-play and have only negative views of general aviation, it is encouraging each summer when dozens of women pilots casually get into their airplanes and safely race each other over trans-continental routings. There is a spirit of camaraderie in spite of the keen competition, and the Air Race Classic proves a boon to aviation in general. At the same time, it gives the fliers the opportunity to hone their flying techniques. Many other people are drawn into the annual events through sponsorship, ground/air assistance, timing, officiating and as spectators.

Award wise, the Air Race Classic started in 1977 with an $8,550 purse for the top-ten crews, with additional leg prizes for those finishing outside the selected group of ten. The awards have been increased over the years, so that the current top-ten purse is $15,000.

Twenty-eight years, 66,639 statute miles, and 1116 teams later, the Air Race Classic remains a venue for competitive flying. Louise Thaden is quoted as saying, “… added skills are developed, self confidence is increased and enduring friendships are made”. And Blanche Noyes added, “Flying is ageless.”
History courtesy of Glenn H. Buffington and Carolyn J. Van Newkirk, Ed.D.
The 2008 Women’s Air Race Classic starts on June 24th from Bozeman, Montana and finishing four days later in Mansfield, Massachusetts with stops planned for South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky and New York. Good luck girls et bon voyage!

One of last year’s competitors readies for take off.


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