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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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Liberty pilot takes to the air in famous air race

The Liberty Gazette
June 22, 2010

Liberty resident Linda Street-Ely is taking to the skies again, redefining her family’s racing heritage. The granddaughter of 1921 Indianapolis 500 third-place finisher, Percy Ford, Linda has moved up, in a sense. Beginning June 22, Linda and her co-pilot, Dr. Elizabeth Kummer, of Dallas, will start the timer as they race down the runway at Page Field in Fort Myers, Florida, taking off on the first of eight legs in the 2010 Air Race Classic, the only all-woman transcontinental air race. They will have four days to complete the race, ending in Frederick, Maryland, the headquarters of the largest aviation organization in the world, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

Pilot, paralegal, author and speaker, Linda began flying five years ago and is racing in her third Air Race Classic. With her husband, Mike Ely, a professional pilot, she has co-authored nearly 200 articles on aviation, including a weekly column, “Ely Air Lines,” in the Liberty Gazette, and aviation articles for other publications as well. She is the author of the book, “When We Move to Heaven: A family love story” (, her personal story of hope and healing, which she also shares speaking to groups.

She and Mike also race their plane in the Sport Air Racing League, and when they aren’t racing, enjoy flying with their canine companions, Abby and Chip, who they adopted from a rescue shelter. Sharing their passion for aviation as an activity that’s good for families, businesses and communities, the Elys promote general aviation through public speaking, writing and aviation programs. Linda has chaired the Liberty Airport Advisory Board and serves as AOPA’s Airport Support Network volunteer for the Liberty Airport. Her competitive nature and love for precision flying also got her hooked on aerobatics. Linda was the recipient of the 2007 Jan Jones Memorial Scholarship for aerobatic training, taking home a third place trophy in her first aerobatic competition.

Co-pilot Elizabeth “Liza” Kummer, M.D., is a retired internist, and an FAA Airman Medical Examiner, and a breast cancer survivor. This is the first air race for Dr. Kummer, who has been flying for two years, and is an instrument rated private pilot.

Last year Linda noticed there were several Racers who flew for charities. “I thought that was such a wonderful idea, and why not do something to benefit someone else while we’re having fun?” So this year Team Ely-Kummer is raising funds for CaringBridge, “In honor of my oldest daughter and grandson, who have benefited greatly from CaringBridge, I’d like to give something back,” Linda said. Her grandson Myles was diagnosed with Severe Combined Immune Deficiency six years ago. “Most people know it as ‘the boy in the bubble disease.’ He was born with no immunity.” Two bone marrow transplants have been unsuccessful, and little Myles’s battles against lymphoma, arthritis, asthma, and much more have been taxing on the family. With over a billion users, CaringBridge provides free web sites that connect family and friends during a serious health event, care and recovery, and through that connection, CaringBridge brings together a global community of care powered by the love of family and friends in an easy, accessible and private way. “It’s been a saving grace as an avenue for support for so many people fighting serious illnesses,” Linda added.

Linda and Liza are hoping to garner many fans through their race site at, and are hopeful those fans will click on the link to CaringBridge and donate in support. To encourage a following, the team has a tracker so they can be tracked online through their blog during the race.

Air Race Classic, Inc., is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization with a purpose 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. The general public is drawn to the cities participating in the start, fuel stops, and finish, as well as home towns of pilots. Many people join 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.

“It was eight years after my grandfather’s third place finish at Indy when twenty chick pilots with a sense of adventure challenged each other in what was dubbed the “First Women’s Air Derby,” and became affectionately known as the “Powder Puff Derby” when Will Rogers saw lady pilots powdering their collective noses prior to starting up the props,” says Linda. 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 name was changed to “All Women’s Transcontinental Air Race.” Today’s Air Race Classic picked up after AWTAR was discontinued in 1977, continuing that traditional transcontinental speed competition.

Teams work with weather, aircraft performance at different altitudes, and 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.

While it used to be that the fastest airplane won the race, now all airplanes are handicapped - meaning each plane is flying against its own target 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 either an Instrument Rating or 500 hours as Pilot in Command. This race is open to female pilots, and airplanes from 145 to 600 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.

In Linda’s first air race, 2008, 34 teams had four days to complete a route of approximately 2,400 miles starting in Bozeman, Montana and ending in Mansfield, Massachusetts. Transcontinental air racing requires endurance and patience, as Linda attests. “Waiting out bad weather, choosing the best time of day and altitude to fly each leg of the race to find the optimal atmospheric conditions, i.e., best tailwinds or least head winds, trying to stay on course with not even a degree of change in the heading, presents challenges to staying focused while encouraging that part of me that is persistent and competitive. My 2008 teammate, Caroline Baldwin, and I placed 18th in her airplane, a Piper Cherokee 180. Not what we hoped for, but we incurred no penalties, did not have to deviate for weather, had a positive score on each leg, and finished the race without being disqualified. I learned how to do a low-level fly-by for a timer and how to build a race strategy. I met some incredible women, some who fly professionally, or are retired professional pilots, others who do this for fun; a song-writer, a few engineers, a retired federal judge, a farmer, a few teachers, and many more with interesting backgrounds. Every racer was treated to the most hospitable, friendly folks in every town where the race touched down.”
She raced again in 2009, with race partner Jodie Perry, of Austin, Texas, finishing 17th in Jodie’s Piper Archer. “This year will be the first year I will race my own airplane, a Grumman Cheetah, and it will be Liza’s first race. We are truly excited about the adventures that await, and are honored to be flying in support of”

Just knowing this air race is something not many people have done, even those with extensive aviation backgrounds, the challenge that it offers these women is enticing. “My mom and my husband are two of our biggest fans. Mom has team t-shirts made for us and Mike is always at the finish line, cheering us on to that final timing line and for all the celebration and activities over the next two days.”

“Just last year I suddenly recalled when I was young and [former Indy racer] Bob Harkey, a good friend of my parents’, was always asking me to go flying with him. I didn’t go back then, but when I remembered it, I called Bob and said, ‘Hey Bob, guess what? I learned to fly!’ There was this momentary silence and then, “Well, what took you so long?”

This year’s air race will also bring back another historical aspect, live broadcast of the race by HAM radio operators. The First Women’s Air Derby was broadcast by HAM operators in 1929. Radio operator Eric G. (N8AAY), is working with the Frederick Amateur Radio Club and expects to be on both HF and VHF frequencies. Station W1A will operate near the calling frequencies on both 40 (daytime) and 80 (night time).

Official race information will be posted at Linda is hoping you’ll check in during the race, “and cheer on all the racers to an exciting and fun finish.”

Airports/Timing lines on the 2010 Air Race Classic Route
Racers must fly the race in this order, crossing time lines at low levels, 200 feet above the ground.

Start: Page Field, KFMY, Fort Myers, FL Nautical Miles Statute Miles
Waycross-Ware County, KAYS, Waycross, GA 281.14 323.53
Tuscaloosa Regional, KTCL, Tuscaloosa, AL 289.90 333.61
Memorial Field, KHOT, Hot Springs, AR 283.49 326.23
Cameron Memorial, KEZZ, Cameron, MO 319.99 368.24
Southern Illinois, KMDH, Carbondale-Murphysboro, IL 262.53 302.11
Elkhart Municipal, KEKM, Elkhart, IN 279.92 322.13
Mid-Ohio Valley Regional, KPKB, Parkersburg, WV 252.16 290.18
Frederick Municipal, KFDK, Frederick MD 188.55 216.98
Total Race Distance 2157.68 2483.01

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