formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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June 10, 2008 What is the Air Race Classic?

The Liberty Gazette
June 10, 2008

The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

Eight years after my grandfather’s third place finish in the Indy 500, twenty chick pilots with a sense of adventure challenged each other in what was dubbed the “First Women’s Air Derby.” Taking off from Santa Monica, California, they raced their fabulous flying machines to the site of the National Air Races in Cleveland, Ohio. The year was 1929 and the races continued each year until WWII, when both Indy and the Women’s Air Derby were put on hold. Post-war, the “All Women’s Transcontinental Air Race” became affectionately known as the “Powder Puff Derby” when Will Rogers saw lady pilots powdering their collective noses prior to starting up the props. Today’s Air Race Classic picked up after the Derby was discontinued in 1977, continuing that traditional transcontinental speed competition.

Air Race Classic, Inc., is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization whose purpose is to ignite that spirit of competition and camaraderie that is a boon to aviation. The race tends to spur dreamers on to pursue personal goals. People are drawn to the cities participating in the start, fuel stops, and finish, as well as home towns of pilots. Many others get into the excitement through sponsorship, ground-air assistance, timing and officiating, and as spectators and supporters. Overall, each summer brings the spirit of the race to advance aviation through education, competition, careers, and fun.

Mike: The final race under the title Powder Puff Derby was flown not long after I started my flying career. I’ve never raced; it sounds adventurous and educational. Teams work with weather, aircraft performance at different altitudes, air traffic conditions. They spend hours pouring over charts and weather forecasts to formulate race strategies. Even though there is competitiveness, there is a strong sense of camaraderie among racers. Pre- and post-race activities develop strong bonds of friendship and respect. Safety is always a priority.

This year 34 teams will have four days to complete a route approximately 2,400 miles starting in Bozeman, Montana and ending in Mansfield, Massachusetts. While it used to be that the fastest airplane won the race, now they handicap – each plane flying against its own speed, so every entry has an equal chance of victory. Handicapping encourages competitors to play the elements; weather, winds, etc. Flying is restricted to Visual Flight Rules conditions in daylight hours only, but at least one of the two pilots on each team must have an Instrument Rating or 500 hours. This race is open to female pilots, and airplanes from 145 to 570 horsepower.

Each of the eight race legs, between 280-320 miles, is timed and with handicapping that means that it’s possible for the last arrival to be the winner. Reaching each leg, the pilots must fly by a timer and then either land or continue on in the next leg.

Linda departs June 18 to meet up with race partner, Caroline Baldwin, in Amarillo and continue on to Bozeman. We husbands will be venturing to Mansfield to cheer them as they cross the finish line.

Mike and Linda can be reached at

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