The Liberty Gazette
July 9, 2013Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: If you haven’t read last week’s Ely Air Lines you may want to catch up before starting on Part Two of Adventures with Air Race Classic 2013. Part One is nearly gripping, so hold on…
Drake Field in Fayetteville, Arkansas welcomed 33 teams across the finish line, and a few more good sports who finished the course knowing they wouldn’t cross before the clock stopped on Friday, June 21. This year’s race may set a record number of "did not finish" – 8 out of 41 – one of the most challenging races in years.
Weather in Pasco, Washington and a dust storm on the way to Idaho set several teams back.
It was a tough race to finish in just three days, covering over 1,900 nautical miles and celebrations awaited – starting with the "Meltdown Party". In the terminal I easily spotted racers – the tired, sweaty, happy women collapsed in comfy chairs absorbing the satisfaction of such an accomplishment. Excited to catch up with so many competitive pilots, one team I was especially eager to see was #17, Marge Thayer and Helen Beulen, both from Arizona. I hadn’t seen them in about five years and only kept up through occasional emails. This was Marge’s 28th race and this was one team whose progress I’d watched intently.
Representing two sponsors, ForeFlight and Sport Air Racing League, I visited with and congratulated every team I could find at the crowded party when I suddenly spied Helen amidst the masses and made a beeline for a very happy reunion. But where was Marge? She was battling a stomach virus which had her feeling worse than a dust-storm-in-the-mountains-landing all day. Concerned about Marge, I wondered how the duo managed the final day of the race.
Results are not published until the awards banquet Sunday night. Not having stayed for that, Monday morning I learned that Marge and Helen had won the race! Then I saw the news clip.
When "Good Morning! Arizona" anchor Scott Pasmore handed off to Phoenix news helicopter pilot Bruce Haffner for a report, his exclamation couldn’t have been more enthusiastic:
Pasmore: This is SO COOL! Can you keep up with them, Bruce?
Haffner: I don’t think so! These women are pretty amazing!
Haffner recounted the history of the race (which originated in 1929) as video showcased the grand welcome home for the local gals. There were Marge and Helen in Marge’s Cessna 182 – enormous trophy in the back seat – cleared by the tower for a formation fly-by with two other airplanes at Mesa’s Falcon Field.
Then you hear Helen repeat the tower’s clearance: "Seven-Five-Charlie, and Flight, cleared for the option (meaning landing optional), Four Right," as the flight of three makes a low pass, with "smoke on."
Haffner spoke of their passion to inspire women to reach for their dreams, diplomatically calling the formation flight the "golden age squadron" because the T34 pilot, Dick Stitch, is 80, the Nanchang pilot, Donald Andrews is 76, and Marge, 70.
The winners taxied through the congratulatory water arch formed by the Mesa Falcon Field Fire Department as Haffner bellowed, "Great show!" From the cockpit of the C182 came, "Good morning, Arizona!"
Tower controllers went down to congratulate them and Haffner concluded with, "You know how in aviation how cool that is and what a big accomplishment that is – it’s all about the passion – there’s nothing like it!"