More than 100 women pilots will take off on the adventure of a lifetime when the flag drops to mark the start of the 40th annual Air Race Classic (ARC), the oldest airplane race of its kind in the United States.
Starting at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, June 21, 55 planes will launch down the runway at Ernest A. Love Field in Prescott, Ariz., 30 seconds apart, departing on a course that will take them 2,716 miles in just four days.
Teams will face unfamiliar terrain and challenging weather as they put their piloting skills to the test, flying at maximum speed across 12 states, from Arizona’s pine forests and high desert through America’s Midwestern heartland to the sandy beaches of Florida.
At each stop along the way, they will execute a high-speed low pass across a timing line, racing to reach the Terminus, Florida’s Daytona Beach International Airport, by the arrival deadline at 5 p.m. on Friday, June 24.
This year’s ARC is The Collegiate Cross Country, with each airport at or near a college or university aviation program. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is hosting the Start and Terminus. In between, the course will take the racers to Albuquerque, N.M.; Midland, Texas; Waco, Texas; Arkadelphia, Ark.; Warrensburg, Mo.; Champaign/Urbana, Ill.; Murfreesboro, Tenn., and Americus, Ga.
“Every June, female pilots from across the nation fly the ARC for the competition and camaraderie,” said Air Race Classic President Lara Gaerte. “We look forward to welcoming back veteran racers and meeting new competitors at this year’s Start, and celebrating the end of a great race together at the Terminus.”
The Air Race Classic traces its roots to the 1929 Women’s Air Derby, in which Amelia Earhart and 19 other female pilots raced from Santa Monica, Calif., to Cleveland, Ohio. That contest, known as the Powder Puff Derby, marked the beginning of women’s air racing in the United States.
This year’s competitors range from high school and college students to veteran racers in their 80s. Some are flying the ARC for the first time, while others have dozens of races in their logbooks, according to organizers.
Each race plane carries a team of two or three women: Pilot, copilot and an optional teammate.
Of the 55 teams in this year’s race, 19 are representing colleges or universities. Four of the teams are made up of multiple generations of the same family, with grandmothers, daughters and granddaughters – all pilots or student pilots – racing together.
How long it will take each team to finish the race depends on the weather, the pilot’s strategy and the speed of the airplane. The fastest planes may complete the course in two days, while the slowest aircraft may take all four days.
But because the ARC is a handicap race, teams are racing against their own best time, not against one another. This allows slower planes to compete against faster aircraft on an equal basis.
Official standings aren’t determined until after the last team has crossed the finish line – the last arrival at the Terminus may, in fact, be the winner, organizers noted.
Prizes for the ARC are valued at more than $16,500 and include medallions, trophies and cash awards.
ARC fans can follow the racers’ progress on AirRaceClassic.org