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Air Race Classic underwayAir Race Classic underway

55 teams in the 2016 field

The tower controller at Ernest A. Love Field in Prescott, Arizona, had a busy morning June 21, handling more than 50 “classic racer” departures in rapid succession (along with some other traffic) as the fortieth Air Race Classic launched just after 8 a.m. local time. The field of 130 women participating in the oldest race of its kind in the nation embarked on a 2,716-mile sprint to Daytona Beach, Florida.
2016ARC Route 2016_01_23black

Three teams delayed their departures for unknown reasons. The Blackbirds were last to depart, with pilot Lara Gaert, copilot Donna Harris, and teammate Jo Alcorn. They were far from out of the race, however; at times, leaving last can be a savvy move, it if it means catching more favorable wind, to name one example. Teams are all individually handicapped and racing to beat their own aircraft’s performance across the timing checkpoints, and the last aircraft to arrive in Daytona Beach before the 5 p.m. deadline on June 24 could potentially win the race.

The Saluki Aces 2.0, defending champs representing Southern Illinois University Carbondale with pilot Rachel Piacentini and copilot Jessica Reed (who was part of the winning 2015 team as well) were among part of the aeronautical peloton as the front of the field reached the first stop at Double Eagle II Airport in Albuquerque, New Mexico. An online map and tracking page established by race organizers allows fans and supporters to follow each team’s progress throughout the race.

The Racing Rosies, Team 36 in 2013, Emily Applegate and Zia Safko. Photo courtesy of Air Race Classic.

The 2016 edition of the 40-year-old event honors collegiate aviation programs across the nation, and 17 of the 55 teams listed on the Air Race Classic website represent aviation colleges. Four others comprise multiple generations of aviatrixes, grandparents flying with their children and grandchildren. The annual race, organized by a nonprofit, volunteer group, has inspired a love of aviation among generations of women through a history rooted in the 1929 Women’s Air Derby (also known as the Powder Puff Derby), when Amelia Earhart raced 19 other pilots from Santa Monica, California, to Cleveland.

The racing is done in day VFR conditions (though at least one pilot in each aircraft must have an instrument rating). Teams win or lose based on dozens of decisions made during the flights, and on the ground between legs. Delaying a given departure for more favorable winds might benefit a team, as long as they don’t miss that final deadline, 5 p.m. EDT June 24 in Daytona Beach. Along the way, teams fly over timing marks to log their official progress.

In addition to the live map track, race organizers worked with to collect links allowing fans to listen in on live radio broadcasts along the route.

Air Race Classic teams make low passes over timing lines set up along the route. Undated photo courtesy of Air Race Classic.
Jim Moore

Jim Moore

Editor-Web Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot, as well as a certificated remote pilot, who enjoys competition aerobatics and flying drones.
Topics: Events, Air Racing, Pilots

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