Air Race Classic teams gathering in Arizona

June 14, 2012

Teams of women pilots flying 55 aircraft are headed to Arizona to take part in the 2012 Air Race Classic June 19 to 22, continuing a tradition of women’s air racing that began in 1929.

The air racing teams numbering 117 participants will start the 2012 race at Lake Havasu City, Ariz., and then fly a 2,700-mile course to Clermont County Airport in Batavia, Ohio, stopping at nine airports along the way.

The race is flown under day-VFR conditions in single- or twin-engine aircraft, with each aircraft assigned a speed handicap based on data provided during a test flight. Producing a groundspeed that beats the handicap speed by as much as possible is the race’s goal.

“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,” explains the Air Race Classic’s website.

Cash prizes totaling $15,000 will be awarded for the top 10 finishing teams. Prizes are also given for flight legs to teams that are not among the top 10 finishers.

The Air Race Classic extends the history of women’s air racing and builds on the theme of the First Women’s Air Derby, held in 1929. It included 20 participants. A successor event, the All-Women’s Transcontinental Air Race, continued the tradition until 1977, when the Air Race Classic began.

AOPA is a “full throttle” sponsor of the Air Race Classic, and will be present at the banquet to be held at the race’s end at Clermont County, Ohio.

The handicap scoring system now in use has been employed since the 1950s, the Air Race Classic organization said.

Air Race Classic flight crews consist of two women pilots. Additional teammates are allowed, provided they are women with a student pilot certificate or better, or a pilot certificate without a current medical certificate.

The race is also the story of inspiring pilots. AOPA reported that this year’s race will include a three-generation team flying together in a Piper Cherokee.

A newcomer to the race this year will be 400-hour private pilot Cynthia Lee, flying her Diamond DA40 XLS with co-pilot Nancy Rohr, a 5,000-hour airline transport pilot and instructor.

Lee, of Avondale, Pa., and Rohr have been planning their race since agreeing to team up for the event--a dream come true for both--during a The Ninety-Nines Christmas party last December, Lee told AOPA by phone during a stopover in Flagstaff, Ariz., en route from the east coast to Havasu City.

The team was awaiting the repair of a flat tire before overflying the Grand Canyon. Lee’s airplane, equipped with a Garmin G1000 navigation system, synthetic vision, and integrated autopilot, “flies like a dream,” she said after a day of being bounced about by moderate turbulence over the desert at 11,000 feet.

The long-distance flying has also provided “a lesson in crew management,” she added.

The flight to Arizona, and the race, will be her second round of long-distance flying in the airplane purchased in December; Lee has already flown the DA40 to the Bahamas on a mission flight for the relief organization Bahamas Habitat.

The flying marks a return to aviation for Lee, who had not flown since college until returning to aviation in 2009 resolved to earn her private pilot certificate.

“Three years ago I decided to take it off my bucket list and make a reality of it,” she said. “I’ve been flying ever since.”