JOHN DAY – Stormy skies last Tuesday slammed on the brakes for seven women pilots on a cross-country air race, grounding them overnight in John Day.
Traveling in three aircraft, the pilots were barely under way in the women-only 37th Air Race Classic, June 18-21, from Tri-Cities, Wash., to Fayetteville, Ark., when inclement weather had other ideas.
The women, who flew in to Grant County Regional Airport late Tuesday night, were met by airport staff and provided with courtesy cars to get into John Day for the night.
The next day, some spent their restless waiting time at the airport, while others took in a few local sights.
A break in the weather allowed two teams to fly out and continue racing late Wednesday afternoon. Barbara Goodwin of Michigan and Maureen Kenney of California, team “Cardinal Crew from Kalamazoo,” decided to bow out of the race, and planned to fly on the next day, but not as contenders.
The other two teams were “Team Wunder Women,” Mary Wunder and Juliet Lindrooth, both from Pennsylvania; and “Baldwin Family Flyers,” Caroline of New Mexico, Lydia of Colorado, and Cara Baldwin of West Virginia.
Most of the women are veterans of the Air Race Classic. Lindrooth was the only first-time racer of the bunch.
Their former and current careers and experiences, outside of the air race, run the spectrum: education, psychology, NASA, nursing and commercial airline piloting.
And some are still in school. Cara Baldwin, student piloting with her aunt and grandmother, just completed 11th grade.
All were impressed by the spacious facilities at the Grant County Regional Airport, and were appreciative of the accommodating airport staff.
Airport manager Patrick Bentz encouraged them to put in a word regarding John Day as a future scheduled race route stop.
The airport would have to accomodate multiple planes – this year there were almost 50 – coming through over the course of three-four days, but Bentz said he’d figure it out.
The annual competition, always held just after Father’s Day, covers a different route each year, averaging about 2,400 statue miles. The 2014 course will truly be cross-country, spanning from California to Pennsylvania.
Awaiting the winners: cash prizes of $5,000 for first-place, and $3,000 for second-place, plus gold watches for the pilot and co-pilot. More cash prizes are given to successive finishes down to 10th-place and for each leg of the race, as well as plaques and charms for all the competitors.
But as six-time racer Wunder said, “It’s more about the bragging rights.”
Her teammate, Lindrooth, who’s been a 767 pilot with American Airlines, said it was a great adventure just flying out from their home area of Philadelphia. She was already enjoying the “unpredictability.”
Four-time racer Lydia Baldwin, a nurse manager back home in Colorado, said, “Every year you learn more about flying. It’s so much fun and becomes a must-do.”
The Air Race Classic’s origins date back to 1929. That year, the First Women’s Air Derby was held, in which 20 pilots raced from Santa Monica, Calif., to Cleveland, Ohio. After World War II, the All Women’s Transcontinental Air Race, better known as the Powder Puff Derby began.
When it discontinued in 1977, the Air Race Classic was launched.
Among the nonprofit’s mission: To encourage and educate women pilots, promote women’s roles in aviation, and increase awareness of general aviation.
As Wunder, a veteran now of six races, said, “It’s a fly camp for girls.”
For more information about the Air Race Classic, visit www.airraceclassic.org.Read more on bluemountaineagle.com.