WARRENSBURG — The 40th annual Air Race Classic, a cross-country race from Arizona to Florida, stopped in Warrensburg this week.
The race, made up of more than 115 women aviators in 47 aircraft, began Tuesday and lasts four days. Pilots stopped to refuel, check the weather and hydrate at the Max B. Swisher Skyhaven Airport on Wednesday.
Amanda May, the stop chair at Warrensburg’s stop, led a group of volunteers at Central Missouri to receive fuel slips, serve food and water to the pilots and even decorate the terminal with streamers.
“The boys made fun of my decorations the night we did it, and I was like, ‘just you wait and see, girls are going to love this,’” May said. “Everyone said this is one of the best stops they’ve seen.”
While the pilots took off one-by-one in Prescott, Arizona, they are not racing neck-to-neck. Each plane is assigned a handicap speed, putting focus on the logistics of the journey – tailwinds, fuel conservation and weather – rather than beating out opponents.
The Air Race Classic continues a tradition of women’s transcontinental speed competition dating back to the 1929 Women’s Air Derby.
Liberty University sent Lizzy Hauk, Kaitlyn Allen and Melody Kaijala in a Piper Arrow III, as one of two teams representing the university. The three made last-minute plans to stay the night in Warrensburg after suffering an alternator failure.
“We literally got the last room at a Super 8,” Kaijala said.
Kaijala is in her third year flying the ARC, and has had few close calls with booking hotels, despite some pilots booking rooms in every stop of the race.
“We usually just wing it – no pun intended,” Allen said.
The team said they enjoy the camaraderie and professional connections to be had at the all-women’s race. About 6 percent of pilots in the world are women.
“It sucks being a minority, but it’s a good thing in the fact that you have more connections than you would if it were such a big group,” Allen said. “Everything you’re about to go through with, career-wise, some of these women have already done.”
Hauk added that visiting terminals full of women was “kind of like a reunion.”
Another team staying the night, after waiting for storms to clear on their flight east, was Elizabeth Bates and Shelby Satkowiak, of Western Michigan. Once landed, their adviser texted them advice concerning storms near Illinois, where their next stop in Champaign is.
While most collegiate teams prepare all year for the classic, Bates and Satkowiak were assigned one month in advance after the scheduled pilots were unable to race.
“We did a couple practice flights, we picked up the course and tried to fly some of it backwards, to fly out to the start just to see what some of the stops looked like,” Bates said about preparation. “We did a couple (simulations), but that’s about it.”
Mary McCarty and Molly Van Scoy, of Purdue, met at least every other week both semesters at school this year to strategize, and even took an online course for mountain flying.
McCarty said the all-women’s race is a unique fixture. She enjoys the event, but said she encountered some awkward feedback through social media.
“It’s almost kind of an anomaly that we’re doing this,” McCarty said. “I guess people find that funny, or cool. One to 2 percent of the population are pilots, and then 6 percent of that are women pilots. It’s neat.
“Even with people sharing the pictures, people comment with the weirdest things. Like, ‘Oh, you wouldn’t pose two men like that,’ even though it was our idea. There are some people that are very nit-picky about it, and I think Molly and I are pretty laid back. If they want to pick fights where there doesn’t need to be, that’s on them.”
Pilots complete legs of the race with stops in Illinois, Tennessee and Georgia before finishing in Dayton Beach, Florida, on Friday.
Alex Agueros can be reached at 660-826-1000, ext. 1483 or on Twitter @abagueros2