The 42nd Annual Air Race Classic takes off from Texas June 19. Penn Yan is the eighth stop in the race.
Samantha Horne of Avon, Livingston County, and co-pilot Frances Englund of Fairport are one of 54 teams of female pilots who will fly across the country in the 42nd annual Air Race Classic (ARC) from June 19 to June 22, making at stop at the Penn Yan Airport. The event traces its roots to the 1929 Women’s Air Derby in which Amelia Earhart and 19 other daring female pilots raced from Santa Monica, California, to Cleveland, Ohio. This contest marked the beginning of women’s air racing in the U.S. and was known at one time as the “Powder Puff Derby.”
“I am so excited to be able to fly a cross-country race,” Horne said.
The race will be a first for both her and Englund. Beginning in Sweetwater, Texas, the racers will touch down at eight small airports — including Penn Yan Airport — before ending in Fryeburg, Maine.
“I know that I’ll learn a lot throughout this,” Horne said, “about the airplane, the weather, flying in general, and about myself.”
Both women are members of the Finger Lakes Chapter of the Ninety-Nines (99s), an international organization of licensed women pilots and women student pilots.
In 2014 Horne, while still in high school, got her private pilot’s certificate. Three years later she received her instrument rating allowing her to fly in all types of weather conditions.
Race rules stipulate that either the pilot or co-pilot must have a minimum 500 pilot in command (PIC) hours logged in an airplane, or a current instrument rating to qualify to fly in competition. Neither Horne nor Englund have 500 hours of PIC time, but Horne is instrument rated so the team qualifies.
For Horne, who works in the healthcare field, the race will help to accumulate flying time needed for a commercial pilot’s certificate.
Englund, a certified pharmacy technician, realized a lifelong dream when she purchased her own plane in 2014 after earning her private pilot certificate in 1984. On June 11, Englund and Horne, or the Finger Lakes Flash, as they have named their team, will leave the Williamson-Sodus airport in Englund’s Cessna 172, a four-seat, single-engine plane.
There will be a planned stopover in Arkansas to see some of Englund’s family.
“I’m excited that I will have the opportunity to fly over our farm in my own airplane as well as see my hometown from the air,” Englund said.
Englund also is looking forward to interacting with the other racers.
In Sweetwater, Horne and Englund will meet two women who have mentored them long distance over several months in preparation for the race. There will also be a chance to visit the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) Museum at Avenger Field in Sweetwater where Englund’s mother-in-law was stationed as a WASP during World War II.
The 2,656-mile dash across country begins at 8 a.m. Tuesday, June 19, and ends Friday, June 22, in Fryeburg, Maine.
Intermediate stops for either landing or flyby for timing at eight smaller airports include Penn Yan, the last stop before Maine. Faster planes may cover the course in only two days; slower teams may not arrive at the Terminus, Eastern Slopes Regional Airport in Fryeburg until moments before the 5 p.m. arrival deadline on June 22.
How do they determine a winner when race teams fly many different airplanes with different capabilities?
“Because each plane receives a unique handicap, teams are racing against their own best time, not against one another,” Englund said. “This creates a level playing field, so slower planes can compete against faster aircraft on an equal basis. Teams strategize to play the elements, holding out for better weather or seeking more favorable winds, to beat their handicap by the greatest margin.”
ARC officials have assigned the Finger Lakes Flash a handicap speed of 145.09 mph.
“The strategy is to beat that speed on each leg by the most we can,” Englund said.
To determine the handicap speed, she flew in a square pattern at full throttle at 6,000 feet density altitude. The data was logged and transmitted to ARC officials. This information and performance data determined by the airplane’s manufacturer are used to assign the racing handicap speed.
Horne anticipates the biggest challenge will be the unknowns.
“We’ve booked hotel rooms and planned on being in certain destinations for best-case scenarios all while knowing that the weather might have other plans,” Horne said. “Knowing that plan might go out the window is a bit of a challenge.”
Spectators, volunteers welcomed
The aircrafts are required to do a low-altitude flyby of the airport, and the location selected for spectators is an ideal spot for viewing the flybys, said Rich Leppert, president and general manager of Seneca Flight Operations, the fixed-base operator of the Penn Yan Airport.
The Yates County airport, the largest in the Finger Lakes, is preparing to be a stop for the first time on the Air Race Classic. Signs will direct the public to a viewing area near the Seneca Flight Operations building.
The progress of the racers can be tracked online so spectators can check for estimated times the racers will arrive in Penn Yan. Event co-chairs at Penn Yan are Paul Middlebrook and Lee Sackett, retired professional pilots with well over 30,000 total hours of flight experience. The Penn Yan Rotary will be selling refreshments.
Natacha Martin of Brighton, another member of the Finger Lakes 99s, will also be at the airport on June 20, 21 and 22.
Martin, who learned to fly in college, got a private pilot’s certificate in 1993. She also has a commercial pilot’s certificate and a master’s degree in aeronautical science. At Penn Yan Martin will be the race’s designated head timer, working with teams of people who have aviation backgrounds.
“Over a couple days we will have 54 planes crossing a timing line flying at speeds ranging from 135 to 190 miles per hour, at only 300 feet above the ground, and it is our job to call and record their exact time flying by,” Martin said.
In Penn Yan racing teams will need fuel, rest, and snacks, as well as transportation to local restaurants and accommodation should they stay overnight.
“A mom and daughter could volunteer in hospitality,” said Martin. “Depending on the age of a child, they could participate in operations, directing racers into the hangar or bringing them water after they park their planes.”
Air Race Classic Inc. is an all-volunteer, nonprofit 501(c)3 organization with a mission of encouraging and educating current and future female pilots, increasing public awareness of general aviation, demonstrating women’s roles in aviation, and preserving and promoting the tradition of pioneering women in aviation.
For more information
The Penn Yan Airport is at 2262 Airport Drive. Visit www.pennyanairport.org or contact Richard Leppert at 315-310-8107 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Go to the Air Race Classic website at airraceclassic.org. Register to volunteer at Penn Yan or call Natacha Martin at 512-921-1974.