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The race results are in…

…and we did better than we ever expected! We finished 22nd overall, which puts is the first half of the racers!! This being our first race and all, we were originally planning on going as a non-competitive team so we could learn how to race before doing it for real. Then we decided to just go for it, because the worst than can happen is finishing last. We decided to go competitive but focus on learning and being safe. We did both. And ended up doing well! It was a great challenge and having it conquered makes us feel proud.

On our best race leg, we finished 10th. What makes us even more proud is that we were racing a steam-gauge aircraft without an autopilot, hand-flying the airplane all the way across the country, and still managed to keep up with autopilot equipped teams that were supposed to be a couple miles per hour faster than us. We made safe decisions, stayed on the ground when we thought we would be better off on the ground, and finished the race with hours to spare.

We did get two penalties during the race: at Spencer, IA, our arrival and departure flybys were deemed too low. Twenty other teams ended up getting the same penalty. However, the judges said we had a really clean flight and we should be proud of it, and not getting those penalties would still get us the 22nd spot.

If you would like to know more details about the results, you can find all the numbers on all the teams at http://reports.airraceclassic.org

I also won the rookie racer award, an award for first time racers, which aims to give people an incentive to get into racing. Overall, we are very happy with how we did, and are SO glad we decided to compete!

Nicoletta

To all those who pulled us through!

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!

Nicoletta

Four days of adventure

Here is the race as seen by the co-pilot.

It all started Tuesday morning. We woke up early, got a quick weather briefing and start briefing, and then headed to the airport. We had to wait for fuel for quite some time so the start was delayed, and as #50, we departed almost 2h after the initial start time. It was all a mix of stress to know where to go, what to do, to make sure we were ready at the right time and always at the right place. There was a long line of airplane holding short for the departure runway but everything went pretty much as expected, at least for us, and at least until take off.

Then, off the sky we were, climbing not too high but high enough to clear the Appalachian mountains coming up. Then about 20 min later, I saw our alternator on 0. Our battery was still showing close to 12V but that 0 was no good news. I had the pleasure to consult the yellow checklist for the first time in flight, that’s the one a pilot wished never have to consult, the one for emergency procedures. We followed it, tried to switch off and on all we could, but the alternator still showed 0. We looked on the chart for possible off-race airports with maintenance available with the help of our awesome ground crew, but we decided to continue on and see how fast the battery voltage was dropping. Nicoletta was optimistic and thought we could make it to the next race stop with no problem, but we still had 150 miles to go! To save the battery, we turned off our GPS and radios, at least until we were close to Pittsburg airspace. There, we needed our altimeter to work so we had no other choice. The battery was still around 11V and all was looking promising. We decided that as long as we were not under 8V, we would continue. But what we didn’t know is that actually the radios don’t transmit anymore close to 10V. So less than 30 miles before Millersburg, OH, we lost our way of communication with the outside world. Fifty planes were coming to the same airport at about the same time, full speed, either for landing flyby or departure flyby, and they had no idea we were there. We couldn’t make any announcement on the radio, so the timers didn’t know either. We had a procedure for flyby with no radio, and we tried to follow it. Nicoletta lined up with the runway and descended to 200′ AGL, I flashed the landing light, and she rocked our wings, at full speed, at 200′, pretty fun! Then we climbed out to Coshocton, OH, for the landing airport. We had no AWOS so didn’t know the altimeter setting or the wind direction, or the runway in use. I tried to call the FBO, but of course, my phone wouldn’t sync with my headset, so I had to yell in the phone our location before arrival and in the pattern but I couldn’t hear them. We finally followed a plane until we landed. Then we were happy to have made it!! The maintenance people were expecting us, and another plane who had lost their alternator at take-off, and they worked on our plane for at least an hour. So we planned the next leg because we had faith into these guys and we got the plane fueled. Everybody was so nice with us, feeding us, taking care of our plane and us. They found the problem pretty quickly but of course it takes a bit of time to take things apart and put them back together, so by the time they had finish to replace the broken wire, we were ready to go. 

We hoped for only one thing: a less memorable second leg! These people were so nice, they even didn’t charge us for the repairs, all they asked for was a picture with us.

To leave, they had to jump start us as the battery was not charged enough, but it worked and our alternator was showing a full charge. Yay!! We were ready for Indy!

This second leg was not that memorable, which was exactly what we needed! This second flyby was a lot less stressful, as we saw downtown Indy skyline in the background. With a radio, things were still a little hectic as a lot of planes are arriving and departing the same airport, and with traffic moving at full speed for flyby to land or departure flyby, everything goes really fast in every direction, but it was easier than our first flyby. 

The next leg to Decorah was the longest one and we couldn’t afford to divert around weather or we would have run out of fuel. The radar was showing weather coming in on the way so we decided, after lots of debating and looking at a million forecasts, to stay in Indy overnight. That’s how I got my first “Bob Evans” experience (for my French people, it’s just a chain restaurant). Our hotel was a lot less nice than in Frederick but a good pilot (and co-pilot) doesn’t dwell on little details like that and just get the sleep they can get!

Next day we finally departed to Decorah, Iowa, after a little storm passed through to offer us another beautiful rainbow.

Luckily we had favorable winds most of the way and the leg wasn’t as long as it could have been. Only 2.5h for 384 miles, or an average speed of 152 mph. One of our fastest speeds. Actually the next leg to Minnesota was even faster at 158 mph average. And it was nice to see lakes everywhere, and forests, all green and blue. It was also a little bumpy but smooth air was pretty rare during the race. In Bemidji, MN, we knew some weather was coming in and we had to make a decision promptly as to stay there overnight or leave to Spencer, Iowa. After checking the weather a billion times and calling the weather briefer, we decided that it was now or never. So off we went again. And it started to rain. The very dark clouds to our west let us taking off and do our flyby under VFR conditions (rain is no big deal, only visibility and cloud altitude matter), but I took a picture of the METAR on my phone, just in case someone contested… We escaped just in time and we were the last (or one of the lasts) to be able to that day. The winds were looking more favorable the next day, but the weather was iffy and, as we found out along the way, the winds aloft forecast is pretty unreliable. We ended up being pretty happy with our decision since a storm headed to Bemidji that next morning and pilots who stayed there overnight got delayed. Once in Spencer, we had flown more than half the distance in half the time allowed. We had only 4 legs left and 2 full days. That’s when we realized that we could actually do this for real and get to New Mexico before the Friday 5pm deadline.

The next day was my second most dreaded leg, Kansas. For those who don’t know my former adventures through Kansas, or have never been to Kansas, it’s the most windy place ever! They have the worst storms and high winds is what they get on a daily basis. I still don’t understand how Cessna decided to settle there, and how planes can fly there. As expected, it was the most windy and bumpy leg, and the scariest approach into the airport. We departed with 46 kts of headwinds. It’s huge. It’s about 1/3 of our speed right in our face. Imagine driving a car with as much gas as going 90 mph but the car would move at only 60 mph. During a race, when you are trying to go as fast as possible! Thanks to wonderful competitors, we were told to climb up to 8500 ft to get about no headwind. Climbing hurts performance since the energy used to go fast and forward is used to going up instead. But that day, it was worth it. We managed to limit the disaster and our average speed was 126 mph (our handicap – base speed being almost 145 mph). And up there the air was much smoother. But close to the airport, we had to descend and the air was so bumpy, it was hard to just set up the radio frequencies and read all my documents. The approach to the airport was pretty scary with the winds and bumps all over the place, but Nicoletta did a good job keeping the plane under control. At this point, all I wanted was to leave Kansas and be over this! But, problem, again, there were clouds in Oaklahoma, near the next destination. And we cannot fly if the clouds are too low. So if we decide to leave, go through a flyby, then we are on the clock and if we have to land to wait the weather to pass, then we waste time and we are pretty much done. So we needed to be sure to make it through. It seemed reasonable to think that we could so we left, eventually. The headwinds were still pretty strong so we had to climb high again, at 7500 ft. We had some complicated airspace to cross on that leg and it was actually easier to be higher, so it worked out for us. Then Oklahoma was a lot smoother and the flight was way more enjoyable. So much that we decided to make it to Texas. We had our ground crew the whole time trying to decide do we go or do we stay, but the threat of high winds and high density altitudes on the last leg was such that we wanted to do it early in the morning, if possible. So we left Oklahoma to Texas that day. We could have made it to the final destination that same day, but decided to wait for the morning for New Mexico. It was so hot in Texas! We stayed there overnight and early morning we were ready to make it to Sandia and Santa Fe. 

The flight was smooth and pretty boring to New Mexico. A few mountains and windmills to clear, but the desert was so empty! Except for the crop circles everywhere. But pretty much nothing.

We were afraid that we would not find the last flyby airport easily because the runway is very narrow and in line with a street, in the middle of nowhere. But we found it! It was exciting! We did our last flyby super easily, because we were pros at it by then! Then we climbed and turned right towards Santa Fe, avoiding the mountains in front of us. Then it was just a relax extra 30 miles to get to Santa Fe to land. Of course the tower sent a jet towards our direction for take off as we were approaching for landing, but no factor… That’s how we made it to the terminus of our first Air Race Classic! 

The best in my opinion about this race is the pilots and all the volunteers. At each stop, we were greeted with cold water bottles that were very appreciated. People took care of us, fed us, helped us in any way possible. We signed dozens of autographs and people kept saying how they admired us. It was so weird and fun at the same time, unexpected but very touching. All these volunteers were so helpful and wishing to help as much as possible the whole time, at every stop. The pilots were also awesome. The camaraderie was remarkable, concurrents who could (should) have kept advice for themselves to win the race, helped everybody get the best tailwinds and the less bumps. It was not about winning the race, but getting there and having fun the whole way. We met great people and hopefully we will all stay in touch. We heard great stories about flying, and it was such a great experience and adventure! 

We heard today that we have only small penalties for supposedly flying a flyby too low, twice. Our GPS said otherwise but we don’t have any word on it. So we’ll just take the judge decision as it is. We had penalties for the first flyby that we didn’t announce on the radio (actually I did make the call but the radio was dead and only Nicoletta heard it) but these should be lifted as we followed the procedure for lost radio and got all the paperwork for en route maintenance done in time. Overall, we went beyond our expectations by finishing much earlier than the finish deadline and our time doesn’t look that bad. We’ll know the final results at the banquet tomorrow, so suspense for now!

We also learned a lot about the plane during this race. Flying full throttle in a Piper Warrior for 4 days in a row is not advised of course, but we did and the plane did great. We know now that when the engine heats a lot, the GPS gets dark, may reset its database, the iPad turns off, and all kind of useful technology onboard becomes unusable. That’s why piloting a plane with the basic instruments is good skills to have! Also, I would recommend to anybody flying in the summer in the super hot southern states to keep their vents open, it was a luxuary for us that we couldn’t afford to go as fast as possible, but we appreciated them for the last 10 min between flyby and landing!!

And to finish, some pictures of cool planes we saw along the way. If you didn’t know, in my world, there are small planes, big planes, and cool planes. These belong to the cool plane category.

Now, we have to fly 10h back home on Monday, with no more fun company on air to air radio, and back to normal life on Tuesday. We hope the tailwinds will be in our favor this time, and maybe we’ll see interesting things on the way, like an ovni or something?

See you soon Indiana!

Chloé 

We’re closing in on the finish line!

We are currently in Plainview, TX. This means we have one leg to go – from Plainview to Santa Fe, NM, before we cross the finish line. We flew three legs per day in the last two days, which was exhausting, but also fun.

To recap: on Day 1 we flew from Frederick, MD to Coshocton, OH, after flying over PA, and then Indianapolis, IN, where weather decided we aren’t going anywhere! Then on Day 2 we woke up early and got to Decorah, IA, after overflying IL, moved on to Bemidji, MN, even crossing the WI border, and then back down to Spencer, IA. Making the third leg was a great decision, seeing as weather picked up today and it would have been impossible to get around it. On the way from Indianapolis to Decorah we passed directly over Purdue and talked to Lafayette Tower to get permission to pass through the airspace. We made sure to wave! Passing through and not stopping did feel a little weird, but as we told the controllers, we’ll be back soon enough!  Today we flew from Spencer, IA, to Abilene, KS, Ardmore, OK, and Plainview, TX. Kansas was very windy and turbulent, which made our flyby challenging. Our final approach to land was also bumpy, but we managed to  land just dine. 

We plan to leave tomorrow morning for Santa Fe, NM. As we are moving further west into the country, we are encountering higher terrain, which means our airplane has to fly at a higher altitude. However, aircraft performance decreases as you go higher, and high temperatures also increase density altitude, making the situation worse. With the temperature being so high, we think that leaving in the morning before the sun takes over completely will give us a lower density altitude so that we can more easily climb around the mountains. It should be a short two hour flight to Santa Fe from where we are.  

Overall, we think we have been doing well. Out of the 8 legs we have done so far, we managed to exceed our handicap speed on two of them. Considering how much headwind we are fighting, this is not insignificant. We are also managing to keep up with airplanes that are 1) a couple mph faster than us and 2) equipped with an autopilot, so that’s something we are proud of. Our airplane is handling the high power settings and the turbulence well and we are learning a lot about aircraft performance and how to optimize it. We won’t have the race results until Sunday, but we are keeping our fingers crossed for no penalties! 

Here are some pictures from our legs!!

Nicoletta

We’re in Indy!

We’re close to home! This will be a short update, because we desperately need sleep, but we wanted to let you know we’re safe and well!

Takeoff this morning was beautiful, and we did two legs, to Ohio, and then Indiana. Weather in Illinois kept us on the ground at Indianapolis, but at least this is familiar and friendly landscape, and we’re looking at some better winds tomorrow morning (fingers crossed!!)

We’ll give you more information about how today went when we get some free time! Today we spent our time waiting at the airport in Indy washing Tonto, so that we can hopefully get a couple more knots on our airspeed! Tomorrow we are off to Decorah, IA. The plan is to then head to Bemidji, MN, and back to Spencer, IA. We’ll see how much of that actually happens and what the winds have planned for us! We think we’re doing okay, considering we are all fighting the same headwinds! 

Nicoletta 

It’s time to race…!

This is our last blog entry before we start racing, so here’s how things are going:

All airplanes are taking off in 30 second increments, starting at 8am. If you are based in the Maryland/DC area, you can come watch the takeoffs at Frederick Municipal Airport. It should be a cool sight! The Purdue team is Classic Racer 8, so they’ll be taking off pretty early! We are classic Racer 50, so it might be 20 minutes or so until we get to take off. We will continue updating the blog with our location and experiences, as often as our fuel stops/plans allow, but you can also follow our progress online on a map, and listen in on our flyby announcements at LiveATC, which set up equipment at all flyby airports for us! Tomorrow we will be stopping at Indy (Indianapolis Regional – KMQJ) so feel free to come by to see us. We should be there at approximately 2pm, but make sure you check our progress on the map to estimate how far away we are. We will also be going right over Lafayette, at a relatively low altitude, so you might be able to see us if you pay attention!

We are currently expecting some weather to move into Minnesota and the rest of the Midwest early Wednesday, which will make things interesting and a little unpredictable. We hope that it won’t be as bad as we are envisioning…

Back to flight planning now… We spent all day in briefings and seminars, and we are exhausted, so it will be an early night for us! Wish us luck!

Nicoletta

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