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Update: Hayward Air Rally postponed to October 17Update: Hayward Air Rally postponed to October 17

Pandemic streamlines annual proficiency contest

Editor's note: This article was updated October 2 with news that the Hayward Air Rally has been postponed to October 17 because of wildfires in California.

Like almost everything else this year, 2020 is putting its mark on the Hayward Air Rally with the COVID-19 pandemic and a natural disaster. The rally, originally scheduled to launch October 3 with extra precautions in place because of the pandemic, has been delayed until October 17 because of wildfires and reduced visibility in smoke along the route.

The starting flag will drop October 17 for the 56th Annual Hayward Air Rally. While the rally still consists of two 250-mile legs, pre- and post-rally activities have been dropped or moved online to facilitate social distancing. Photo by Carl La Rue.

Traditionally held in May, rally organizers announced well before the novel coronavirus that the 2020 event would be moved to October for several reasons—including competition with graduations, Mother’s Day, and Memorial Day, as well as for potentially better weather. The rally committee hoped that by moving to October, there would be fewer scheduling conflicts, and more pilots could participate.

Then the pandemic emerged. But organizers vowed the rally would persevere. Then a devastating wildfire season hit California. The 56th Annual Hayward Air Rally had to be delayed from October 3 to 17. If conditions cooperate on October 17, pilots will fly a normal course with two, 250-mile legs—albeit with an abbreviated format.

The Hayward Air Rally is not a race; crews fly against their planned time and fuel consumption. Scoring emphasizes traditional flight planning and pilotage skills. Every second, and fraction of a gallon, higher or lower than planned will earn penalty points and scoring is like golf—the lowest number wins. AOPA Pilot tagged along on the 2017 rally.

“What we have dispensed with is the Thursday arrival at Hayward Executive Airport with impound, registration formalities, and the course briefing,” explained Chris Verbil of the Hayward Air Rally Committee. “Saturday would have been at the rally destination with recreational activities and the evening awards dinner and presentations. Sunday would be the fly-home day. So we've made our Friday ‘fly day’ on a Saturday in the hopes that those who have resisted entering before because of the multiday commitment now have a lower barrier to entry.” 

“Face masks will be required any time pilots are out of their planes, and/or interacting with other people,” he noted.

Rally aircraft will depart Saturday morning, October 17, from Hayward, California; navigate to Meadows Field in Bakersfield, refuel; and then continue to Tracy Municipal Airport in Tracy. “Pilots then fly home afterwards,” Verbil said. “We’re anticipating that our entries are all going to be from Northern California—which, so far, has been the case with all the entries we’ve received.” He said about 20 aircraft have registered to date.

The awards presentation, conducted online using Zoom, is planned for the following day.

Organizers say the rally, which grew from a personal challenge in 1965 between pilots who also were Hayward city officials, is the longest continually held proficiency flying event in the United States. The Hayward Air Rally is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) charitable organization, and has a long record of providing scholarships—covering tuition and airfare—for young people to attend the Experimental Aircraft Association’s weeklong Air Academy in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Mike Collins

Mike Collins

Technical Editor
Mike Collins has worked for AOPA’s media network since 1994. He holds a private pilot certificate with an instrument rating.
Topics: Air Racing, US Travel

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