We are currently on our way back to Lafayette. Chloé is flying this leg, so I have some downtime to update the blog. The past few days have been crazy, and we can’t believe it’s over. I was expecting to be relieved to have some free time after putting so much effort into this, but I think I have caught the racing bug! And I think Chloé has, too. You should probably ask her about it. On the morning of the race start, I was so anxious I could not eat, and all I could think was “What did I get myself into…” The moment the airplane left the runway at Frederick, I forgot what I was even worrying about. I guess flying does that to you. Now that we finished the race, I can’t wait to go back.
This race (and the start/terminus events) was undoubtedly the best experience of my life. We got to talk to a lot of young girls about aerodynamics, aviation, and science, and they were all thirsty for knowledge and female role models.
The best part about the race was getting to know all the other racers and being in an incredibly supportive environment. When we registered for the race, we were assigned a team of mother birds, who guided is through our preparations. What we didn’t know at the time, was that our two mother birds are part or the Air Race Classic group of directors, and one of them is the President… How they had time to email us and call us and help us so much is beyond me.
The Purdue team, Classic Racer 8, was also very helpful and supportive and never turned us away! Even before we decided to join, Mary sat with me and explained the ins and outs of the Air Race Classic and what I needed to know and be careful about. She never treated us as the competition, but rather as friends who wanted to participate in the race, too. Knowing Mary, this never surprised me, but the rest of the world needs to know how supportive of us she was, too! I only met Alyssa, Mary’s copilot, a week before the race, when the two of them invited me to sit through their briefings with their ground team (WHO DOES THAT!!) but she is the kindest and most confident 21-year old I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting; a true force of nature to be reckoned with, who will go on to be a great role model in aviation. Racing alongside them made everything feel more special, and they were great at entertaining us! They never fail to put a smile on our face. We’ll treasure the memories we have made together.
As we were checking off race legs and progressing along, we noticed that a group of racers ended up sticking tother, probably because we took similar decisions at the beginning of the race, and we had similar handicap speeds. In that group, we made new friends, and adopted more mother birds along the way. Classic Racer 51, representing Lewis University, stayed next to us throughout, and made the air-to-air frequency more entertaining. The excitement in their voices every time they were announcing “Classic Racer 51, approaching FLYBY!!!” was unparalleled, and we could always tell it was them, even when we missed their callsign. They kept us company in the air, and in the ground, during breakfasts and lunches and shopping trips around Santa Fe.
Michiana Redbirds, Classic Racer 34, were mother birds for the Lewis Flyers, but took us under their wing anyway, and guided us along the way. We shared weather briefing summaries, en route advisories, and experiences. We always looked forward to seeing them and their Cardinal on the ground, and they have been very inspiring.
The AOPAngels were first time racers in their Cessna 182, Classic Racer 43. This is AOPA’s first time sending a team to the race, but the angels did a great job spearheading the effort, and it was encouraging to hear that the AOPA has been very supportive of them and employees who want to learn how to fly or stay proficient! These three ladies did something special: while the rest of us in the group knew each other and had talked to each other before, we hadn’t really talked to the angels much. On the leg from Spencer, IA, to Abilene, KS, we were fighting strong headwinds and bumpy conditions. We were at a higher altitude than Racer 51, so we told them to climb a little to get out of the bumps. However, the AOPAngels got on the radio and said “we feel bad for you down there, we have cooler conditions and even a tailwind at 8,500, come on up!” We all thanked them and skyrocketed up to their altitude, where we found exactly what they promised us! The female comraderie throughout this race was eye-opening. It was the first competitive event I’ve experienced where instead of trying to win, we were trying to help other teams cross the finish line with us. The aviation community is unique in that way, and female aviators are making the community even more wonderful. The AOPAngels have also been keeping a blog that you should go read, at https://blog.aopa.org/aopa/category/air-race-classic/. They could not have chosen better ladies to represent the AOPA!
We cannot possibly forget our handicap pilot, Barb, who helped us out with our handicap flight in Kalamazoo back in May. She volunteered her time to do the handicap flights for teams all over the Midwest, and gave us valuable insight to the race, since she is a very experienced racer herself. However, it didn’t end there! She sent us encouraging messages at the beginning of the race, followed us online during the race, and congratulated us when we finished! We hope that she will be back in the race next year, so that we can also follow her.
All of the en-route stops have treated us like superheroines. The public gathered at the different airports to welcome us, talk to us, make food for us, and cheer us on. I was impressed by how different communities came together to pull this off. The moment our engine was off, there would be people at our wings offering us cold water and washcloths, giving us information, and helping us find our way. We appreciated all the hard work the stops put in thinking about what we could possibly need and doing their best to provide it to us before we even asked for it. One stop, in particular, went out of their way to get us up and running. You have probably read Chloé’s account on our alternator failure. If not, well, our alternator failed pretty quickly after we started the race. It wasn’t a big deal and we handled it well, and continued to Coshocton, OH, our first race stop. Our maintenance officer, Tom Stehler (hi Tom!) called ahead and made sure that the airport knew we would be needing repairs and that they had mechanics on the field. Upon our landing, the mechanics met us at the airport and talked us through everything. Not only did they successfully repair our alternator and got us going again, they did everything for free, asking for nothing but a picture with us in return. I never expected that the Air Race Classic would inspire so many people, and watching people treat each other the best way possible taught us what aviation is all about.
I was also impressed by the race organization itself. This is not an easy event to put together! Imagine having to plan a 10-day long event. Now imagine having it take place all over the country, educating people about it a year in advance, preparing racers, finding volunteers to run it, finding sponsors for it, and running the communications and marketing for it, too. Everybody involved already has a full time job, and volunteering for the ARC is a second full time job. Preparing one team for the race was overwhelming on its own, so we appreciate everyone who makes this race so wonderful.
We also need to thank our supporters back in Lafayette who helped us make this a good year. Kristin and Anna in AAE were very supportive of this effort and never stopped believing in our ability to pull the race off! They probably thought I was crazy when I told them what I wanted to do, but that didn’t stop them from helping me. They recruited all of their connections to help us make videos, publicize our efforts, and contact the media. Their help and experience has been invaluable. Nicki and Rita, also in AAE, helped us navigate the world of fundraising and promoting our efforts, and we would not have money to race without them.
We’ll publish a few more blogs on how the race went and more pictures when we get home. Then we’ll start planning for the future. We hope we have inspired some of you to go do whatever you’ve been wanting to do, aviation-related or otherwise. And we hope that we have also inspired young girls everywhere to continue working hard and to not let anyone discourage them.
It’s been a great race. On to the next one!