The air racing community is mourning the loss of two veteran women air racers and the pilot husband of one in an Oct. 8 crash of a single-engine Cessna in the mountains of Idaho.
Tookie Hensley, 80, her husband Don, 84, and Pamela Bird, 58, were reported to be on a cross-country flight from the Bird Aviation Museum and Invention Center in Sagle, Idaho, to Boise when a Cessna 182, believed to be flown from the left seat by Bird, crashed in the Cabinet Mountains near Hope, Idaho.
Bird founded Innovative Product Technologies Inc. and was active in encouraging and facilitating inventive entrepreneurship as the founder of nonprofit charity Inventors Educational Foundation, according to news reports. She was the widow of Dr. Forrest Bird, inventor of medical respirators, who died in August at age 94.
Tookie and Don Hensley owned a flying service in Bullhead City, Arizona.
All were active members of the close-knit community surrounding the Air Race Classic, the all-women air race flown for four days every June.
“Tookie Hensley was an invaluable member of the ARC family,” said Air Race Classic President Lara Gaerte in a news release. "As a mentor for novice racers and a welcoming presence for bringing new pilots—including Pam Bird—into the race, she was the heart, soul and spirit of the Air Race Classic. Both ladies will be greatly missed."
Tookie Hensley was “an instrument flight instructor with more than 30,000 hours logged, an FAA designated examiner and a mentor to generations of pilots,” said the Air Race Classic. She was also a veteran of 24 Air Race Classics, won in 2002, and placed in the top 10 six times. She served on the race’s board of directors from 1985 to 1991, and was a member of the Rio Colorado Chapter of The Ninety-Nines, the Air Race Classic said.
The Hensleys “flew everywhere together, including to every Air Race Classic. Tookie was the smiling face behind the race, and she and Don could often be found greeting old friends and new competitors at the Start. They always went out of their way to make new racers feel welcome.”
Bird flew the race with Hensley in 2013, when they placed eleventh. In 2014 they flew the race with pilot Tonya Rutan, who is married to aerospace engineer Burt Rutan, and who described all the aircraft’s occupants in a newspaper interview as “very good pilots.”