Forty-seven planes will soar through the air over Washington state to begin their race against the clock in the 2013 Air Race Classic.
Pilots Debi Dreyfuss of Potomac and Linda Knowles of Falls Church will be in one of those planes next Tuesday.
The Air Race Classic is an annual competition for women pilots. This year, competitors will depart from Pasco, Wash., traveling along a designated route, and land in Fayetteville, Ark., on June 21, ending the race.
The race is split into nine legs, with eight intermediate stops where teams can land and fuel up or fly over checkpoints and continue on their journey. The legs range from 280 to 320 miles. The stops include Mountain Home, Idaho; Logan, Utah; Rawlins, Wyo.; Spearfish, S.D.; Brookings, S.D.; Holdrege, Neb.; La Junta, Colo.; and Woodward, Okla.
Women’s air racing is a tradition that started in 1929, when 20 pilots raced from Santa Monica, Calif., to Cleveland, according to the Air Race Classic’s Web site. The race has had various names, ranging from the Powder Puff Derby to its current-day Air Race Classic, but the goal has been the same: to race across the country.
The Air Race Classic isn’t all about competition; the event has an educational factor as well. Race coordinators work with local Girl Scout troops and Boys & Girls Clubs to teach girls about flying and introduce them to career opportunities, said Terry Carbonell, who has competed in the Air Race Classic since 2007.
The race is all about beating your own handicap, Dreyfuss said. Before the race begins, each plane is tested to calculate its average speed, which is then deemed the plane’s handicap speed.
“If you’ve never done it before, it seems pretty sophisticated,” Dreyfuss said.
Handicaps make the competition a race against yourself, she explained. Teams are trying to beat their own times, not one another’s. The team with the greatest difference between its race speed and handicap speed wins.
This means that the team that comes in last could win the race if its speed was faster than its handicap speed.
“The race can literally be won by seconds,” Dreyfuss added.
The top 10 teams will split a purse of $15,000.
Dreyfuss and Knowles, who make up Team DC3, have placed in the top 15 the past two years: sixth in 2011 and 12th last year. This year’s competition will be Dreyfuss’s fourth and Knowles’s third.
The pair has been meeting monthly since January to take care of necessary paperwork and to outline their race strategy. They have planned everything from what time they will take off and land at certain locations to how to deal with the forecasted weather.
Planning is key, Knowles said, even when up in the air. Knowles will act as copilot for the race, which she attributed to the fact that Dreyfuss owns the plane, a Cessna Skylane 182T, and is therefore better acquainted with it. While in flight, Knowles will be in charge of tracking the weather and making sure the team stays on course.
“We’ll probably do pretty well unless something goes wrong with the plane,” Dreyfuss said.
Eleven other teams will fly in various versions of the Skylane.
Team DC3 was named for a trio of women pilots who lived in the Washington area. The third member could not participate in this year’s race because of her work schedule, Dreyfuss said.
“So we’re calling ourselves ‘Team DC3 minus one’ this year,” she said.
Knowles said the team met by chance. She and Dreyfuss were in the same chapter of 99s, an organization for women pilots. One day, Knowles overheard Dreyfuss saying she wasn’t going to compete in the Air Race Classic because she did not have a teammate. Knowles offered right away to fly with her.
“I thought it would be fun,” she said.
Dreyfuss had always wanted to compete in the race since receiving her pilot’s license, but she did not think she could do it. In 2010, though, the race ended in Frederick, where she keeps her plane, so she decided to sign up. Dreyfuss now laughs about her self-doubt.
“I was an idiot. Of course I could do it,” she said.