Legacy. Defined as “something that happened in the past or that comes from someone in the past” (Merriam-Webster). A legacy carries us from past to present, either as something to be avoided or something to aspire to. One such aspiring legacy is the Air Race Classic (ARC) – an all-women’s cross-country race that has its roots back to 1929. It started with a group of 19 women which evolved into All Women’s Transcontinental Air Race and was dubbed the “Powder Puff Derby”. Aviation greats such as Amelia Earhart competed against other women in the small, but fiercely competitive cross-country race. The Derby continued until 1977 when it was disbanded and the ARC, Limited was born – later, in 2002, it became a non-profit organization.
The ARC became a race that bonded together female aviators around the country and proved to society that women did belong in aviation. It was also a way to show the men in the industry that the ladies ought to have a race to participate in too. However, the first Powder Puff Derby claimed a life and the first race only had 15 finish out of the 19 that entered. Despite those tragedies, the derby carried on as a tribute. Over 80 years later, the ARC is thriving and continues to grow with over 50 teams competing and racing all over the country.
According to the ARC website, “The current race routes are approximately 2,400 statute miles in length, and the contestants are usually given four days, flying VFR in daylight hours, to reach the terminus. Each plane is assigned a handicap speed – and the goal is to have the actual ground speed be as far over the handicap speed as possible. The pilots are thus given the leeway to play the elements, holding out for better weather, winds, etc. The objective is to fly the “perfect” cross-country. In this type of race, the official standings cannot be released until the final entrant has crossed the finish line. Actually, the last arrival can be the winner”.
Along each leg of race, there are airports that the teams fly over with specific instructions on what direction to approach, which runway to roll your wings parallel to, and specific phraseology on whether or not you plan to continue to the next airport. Another element added to the race is the fact that the race is entirely Visual Flight Rules, meaning that all flying must be completed by sunset. Each fly-by document has all of the instructions and details for each airport – how many stacks of papers do you think the team carries? In addition, the teams are also timed on each leg and prizes given out for each team that has the fastest leg.
The race itself has a broad range of competitors and the aircraft power ranges from 145-170 horsepower. Women from all over the country compete, from the life-long girlfriends to the collegiate teams from the top aeronautical universities and colleges in the country. This last year, 56 teams competed, 17 of which were from colleges and universities. It’s not unusual to actually have more than 1 team competing from a single school – Liberty University and Embry Riddle-Daytona were just a few schools that had more than one team.
Overall, the race is designed to challenge the teams in navigation, planning for weather, flight planning, and successfully working together as a team. If you can come out of 2 weeks having flown to the race, during, and back to home base, without driving each other crazy, then you have a really solid team.
The University of North Dakota (UND) has been participating in the Air Race Classic for 3 years now. We have gone from finishing in the upper teens to 2nd place this year overall, 2nd in the collegiate division, and 1st in the final leg of the race. Last fall, I had the opportunity to apply for two positions that opened up on the team: Navigator and Ground Coordinator/1st Alternate. After undergoing an application and interview process, I was selected for the position of Ground Coordinator/1st Alternate.
UND’s team is made up of the Pilot Flying/Pilot in Command (PF/PIC), the Pilot Monitoring (PM), a Navigator in the back seat, and the Ground Coordinator/1st Alternate.
The PF/PIC is basically the final decision maker – they are responsible for a safe completion of the flight. The PF decided whether the flight is a go or no-go, whether to divert for weather, maintenance, etc. The PF also is in charge of flight planning for both the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as well as any required by UND. They fly the plane, assign checklist duties, radio calls, calculate weight and balance, and brief the crew. This isn’t a comprehensive list as there are a few other elements, but it is a fair amount that is required of the PF. It’s important to find a PF that will be organized, a good leader and communicator. However, the pilot in the right seat does assist a lot in order to reduce the work load and reduce load stress (the number of sources of information).
The PM is in charge of mostly, you got it, monitoring! UND’s ARC team requires the PM be a current UND Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) – the presence of the CFI adds an extra safety element for the PF/PIC. In addition, they file the ARC flight plans, run checklists as assigned, copies down weather information and performs a lot of the recording for the ARC specific elements of the race. Part of the race is to perform fly-bys of airports at certain times, distances, etc. – the PM records and times these fly-bys as their right seat view is the most advantageous. The PM also watches for birds, other aircraft, etc. to ensure that air is safe. In addition, they help set up the navigational aids such as the GPS and the radio frequencies. These are just a few of the more significant items, but yet again we see the need for members of a crew that are vigilant, detailed oriented and team-orientated. However, we can’t forget the Navigator!
The Navigator is responsible for a lot of administrative duties during the race. They pack and organize the plan, maintain the tracking devices, update the electronic charts and flight bag, checklist duties as assigned, and most importantly, contacts and works directly with the forecasting team during, after, and before the flight. The Navigator also is in charge of fuel slips, credit cards, and hotel accommodations – all the important things! They also act as third set of eyes for separation from other traffic and follow the flight with navigation charts to make sure airspace procedures are being followed. Lastly, but not least, we have the Ground Coordinator/1st Alternate.
The Ground Coordinator isn’t actually in the plane, but rather following the race from elsewhere. I held my position virtually during the race as I was on the East Coast working for an airport. I was in charge of specifically the social media. We have a Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and a blog! Phew! I spent every spare minute updating all of the former as soon as I would get updates. I use text, emails, etc. to talk to the ladies and often would get additional information from the coach and our adviser. Months before the race started, all of us met regularly and I was responsible for paperwork for fund-raising, managing the social media outlets, and doing the required training. This last year, we flew through a special type of airspace near Washington, D.C. that required extra computer-based training. Even as the Ground Coordinator/1st Alternate, I need to know the rules, procedures, and route just as well as the rest of the team in the event that I need to step in. Months after the race, I’m still working in my position. I post occasionally on our Facebook, and other social media outlets, and now we’re working on the application process for our next team and recruiting.
After it’s all said and done, I’m proud and honored to have been part of carrying on a legacy started by the female pioneers of aviation. While the percentage of women in aviation is still quite small, about 7%, my hope is that events like ARC get current, or future, female aviators at UND interested in participating. Overall it was a learning experience that broadened my horizons and has helped to round out my experience as a student at UND.
Most people have no idea that ARC exists and our goal is to raise awareness throughout the community. Our hope is that more people, aviators or not, will support and cheer our team on with that famous UND team spirit. We hope that you’ll follow UND’s team next year as we participate in the 2016 ARC!
Check out next year’s airports by using Globalair’s Airport Search: https://www.globalair.com/airport/
Follow ARC’s updates: www.airraceclassic.org