The Liberty Gazette
July 22, 2008
July 22, 2008
The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely
Linda: My race partner is an admirable woman. This was her fifth race and while she wasn’t the eldest competitor, I was impressed with her skill at 69. Her landings were smooth as glass and her competitive nature no less than my own. We alternated flying legs, giving us each four legs to fly, and four legs to sit right seat with responsibilities of radio communication, navigation, and timing. I’m sure it was a thrill for Caroline to fly the first leg, to conquer the Bridger mountain range in the Rockies shortly after take-off. But I was excited to have the last leg into Mansfield, diving down for that final time line, knowing it was our finish line. The good people of Mansfield made a big deal of the Air Race, organizing a weekend-long community event at the airport, that included an antique car show, lots of vendors, games, music, food, stuff to see and do for all ages. It was similar in Bozeman, and as we did there, we held a special event for Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts working toward their aviation merit badge.
In Mansfield I played air traffic controller, explaining what controllers do and why they’re important. One of the pilots from the collegiate team from Purdue University made a large chalk drawing of the airport. With kids standing on different runways, taxiways, and out “flying,” I directed them as a controller would do. We talked about the compass and how that gives us our heading, and how runways are numbered. They learned about traffic patterns: upwind, crosswind, downwind, base, and final, and the importance of aircraft separation and communication. Racers gave Scouts tours of their airplanes, and other activities included making paper airplanes and the opportunity to meet and interview some of the “famous” air racers. In future issues I’ll talk about some of these accomplished women, but one is Margaret Ringenburg, a WASP (Women’s Air Force Service Pilot). She’s 87 years old and still able to maintain a pilot medical certificate and pass a bi-annual flight review. She has won the Air Race Classic several times and has competed in around-the-world air racing and many others. Hers is a fabulous story to hear and I soaked up every minute I could get with her.
A few women in their 80’s, one age 90, flew this year’s race, along with three college teams: Purdue, Embry Riddle, and Western Michigan. Each town we visited brought aviation enthusiasts–families, teens, and older generations. Autographs and photo requests were not uncommon and the encouragement and accolades along the way gave a boost to the excitement of flying this race. Everywhere we went, people were friendly. The Air Race was on the front page of every town newspaper we saw, and people were excited about it coming to their town. They came out to see our airplanes and ask questions, and each racer did her best to promote general aviation and women in aviation.
At the awards banquet several city and state officials made brief but genuine remarks about the benefits of aviation and the importance of community airports. The city manager of Mansfield wholly supported the entire event, showing by his presence and enthusiasm that he understands the value of aviation to their community.
Mike: Given the different makes and models among the 33 airplanes, one might ask, “how do they compete?” Glad you asked that. Come back next week for that answer and more as Linda wraps up her report on flying her first air race. Till then, blue skies.
Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com.