Monday, June 29, 2009

Girls With Wings run a successful AirRace

(Enroute AIO to 5G7 and CLE, Time 1351Z, at 2500ft)

I can't believe the AirRace is over. It seems like I've been gone for weeks, while at the same time I don't want this adventure to be over quite yet...
Clearly, though, it was time to pack up. Heather was getting a little loopy.

I am SO lucky in that on Sunday (yesterday) I started trying to figure out how I was going to get back to my home in Cleveland, OH, from Atlantic, IA, the terminus of the AirRace. My timing was perfect. In order of preference for my travel home was a nice fast ride on one of my company's jets (pretty unlikely between these two cities), then a ride on one of the racer's airplanes (also unlikely since no team is from Cleveland), then using the buddy pass on the commercial airline - read this post to get an idea of this ordeal) and finally renting a car and driving (expensive and a full days drive).

Well, as of the banquet last night, no reposition (empty) trips were showing on my company's website, but the dear twitter friend who supplied the buddy pass did say that there were quite a few empty seats on the Omaha - Cincinnati - Cleveland flights. It would have involved a very early drive from Atlantic to OMA, flying to CVG and sitting for 6 hrs before the flight to CLE (assuming that I actually made said flights). But I was resigned to getting gussied up in my uniform and dragging my bags and Penelope Pilot poster around airports all day.

I was trying to coordinate with another racer, Christy, whose husband was going to OMA in the morning and who would be able to give me a ride. In the melee I realized I didn't have his cell number. I asked the maintenance guru, Vern, for the AirRace if he had a phone list (and why) and he asked me if Cleveland was anywhere near Bluffton, OH, where he was planning on making a enroute stop. I had no idea so I looked it up on Google: 152 miles. Might as well have been 1052 for all I'd be able to make it the rest of the way. So what does his friend, Terry, a major AirRace organizer and pilot say? 152 miles is nothing in an airplane! So I am sitting in the back of her Cessna 182 riding back to Cleveland, should be home around lunch! Sweet!

Now this pilot is from FL, so normally Cleveland would obviously not be on the way. But we had a couple of injuries during the Air Race. One woman tripped on the ramp in Sweetwater and damaged her ankle spending the race on on crutches. Another woman, Dottie, fell during the post race activities and now needs her arm immobilized so now cannot even climb into her Archer, much less fly it. So the mechanic, Vern, also a pilot, is flying the Archer to the woman's house in Bluffton while the 182 carries the injured owner back. And then the two pilot friends will continue on to MD, where they are going to spend some post race time. Which makes Cleveland on their way! Make sense? Anyway, it means I have a ride home!

Yeah, yeah, yeah... How did we do in the race?? Well, for first timers not so bad. Heather and I placed 22 out of 34 teams. At least we came away with one award for being the third place on the last leg of the race. The first place winner was Girl With Wings Erin and fifth place was held by GWW Nicole! I am so proud of them.

I'm going to post again about the AirRace tomorrow to tell you more about the great people I have met and about the AirRace. But its getting bumpy and frankly, I don't feel so good. No more typing!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Day 4, Final leg of the AirRace

(Enroute RAC to AIO, Time 1250Z, South of DBQ at 2400ft)
It is sad but sweet to have taken off on our last leg of this AirRace. It is an absolutely beautiful day for flying (it is Flyday, after all). Again we had a short night, made worse by kids running up and down the hotel hallway. We did have to get up at 4am again! The picture at right shows the storm approaching our destination. We want to get in before this, obviously.

I didn't go to dinner last night so I could finish the post before I went to bed. So I missed out on visiting with our "mama birds:" those women who have flown the AirRace assigned to the newbie pilots like us. We haven't been in contact much with them, being separated by the differing speeds of the a. The organizers have done such a great job getting everything ready and conveying the information that things have been pretty clear: where to go, where to sign in, who to talk to, where to stay, etc.

We will be in Atlantic, IA, just after 9am, well before the finish deadline of 5pm. We don't have any plans until the Reception tonight at 6pm. Saturday we have a brief at 8am followed by aircraft inspections and score sheet distribution. There's a 2pm visit by some Girl Scouts and another dinner at 6:30. THEN a breakfast Sunday morning and another debriefing. The day is free until the evening banquet and Awards ceremony.

Heather and I will be staying with a host family while in Iowa for these last few days. They are even letting us use their car! I'll be driving, since I'm more accustomed to driving on the "right" side of the road than Heather. Hopefully they will not mind us taking some time to rest because I can certainly use a nap. We can/will leave on Monday. I'm not exactly sure how I'm getting back yet. I dread another repeat of the trip down here when I was stuck in Atlanta all day. Should be a bit easier getting back to Cleveland from Iowa!

(Time 1345Z, North of DES at 2400ft) Only 53nm and 20 minutes short of our destination. I asked Heather if she wanted to go around again, she said she would if this time I raised the funds for the airplane! With a little notice, I'd like to think I could!

We have arrived in Atlantic, IA, and have already had the excitement of getting stuck in the mud. We have met up with our host family for the next few days, so it's time to go grab the car, our gear and take a snooze!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Day 3 of the AirRace Classic

(Today 1400Z, just passing KFOA at 2500ft) The alarm jolted me out of sleep this morning at 4:00am. I was sleeping pretty restlessly, so I guess that's ok. We went to bed just after 8pm last night, so that was nearly a good 8hrs sleep in Sparta, TN. Heather, Penelope and I were ready to go flying!

The Holiday Inn Express already had breakfast out at 5am, even though they advertised 6, so we were able to get some food before Eric, one of the FBO employees, swung by and picked us up on his way to work. I like to have my breakfast before I start the day, but I have not been lacking any sources of food on this trip. The organizers of the AirRace Classic told us not to count on food being provided along the route, but as you could see from yesterday's post - this is not the case; we are being so well cared for! It is a wonderful feeling to have such support of the folks on this route. I guarantee that I will be paying a LOT more attention the Air Race Classic from now on. The guys at the FBO even let us use their Simple Green cleanser for aircraft (I'm serious, that's what the spray bottle said), so Heather and I cleaned bug carcasses off the paint. PETA would be very upset about the number of insects we have splattered over the past few days.

We wanted to get to the FBO early to give us the most options for the flight today. We are expecting thunderstorms to build on our route to Jacksonville, IL, later today but we couldn't leave before the low clouds and fog lifted (so we can stay VFR). They have, and its been a smooth flight this morning even though we are low to the ground to have the least headwind. Heather and I were introduced to, and I love this site. It doesn't substitute for an official weather briefing, but it has some GREAT info (and pictures. I like pictures.). The picture to the right is one taken at the end of the day and was not the one we were looking at that morning.

Enroute we did have some stubborn weather being "painted," or displayed, on the Nexrad weather radar in the airplane, but it had dissipated before we reached it. The picture to the left is showing us the type of winds we are going to encounter displayed by strength and direction. This is a service we don't have in my Citation X (though we do have a Stormscope, which throws a radar beam out in front of the airplane to shown the return from actual precipitation). I made the mistake of pointing out this deficiency to Heather, who has decided this Cessna182 must be more technologically advanced then my airplane.

Or maybe it's just my skills she has doubts about. She went to "the back" to grab some snacks during this leg and before she transferred the responsibility of the controls to me reminded me that pushing forward on the yoke made houses get bigger, pulling made them smaller! I'm going to have to get her a ride in the X to reestablish my credibility. I'm not complaining mind you, I'm happy to be able to look out of the window and see these amazing views! Seriously, the landscape doesn't look the same from your car window as it does at 2000ft in the air.

(Today 1500Z, just passed 9I0 at 2500ft) We just executed our flyby at IJX, and turned right to continue on to RAC. As we were climbing out, someone on the ground at IJX wished us a good flight. Both Heather and I feel bad now that we didn't stop and meet the folks here too. I can't believe I'm going to say this, but I wish now I was flying something slower or with a shorter range - this race is going to be over too soon! The picture of the airport to the left is not IJX, but is representative of the types of airports we're flying into. They have to be somewhat small (less traffic) and no tower, so we can do our "unusual" maneuvers - high speed, low altitude flybys.

We've got the true test coming up, transitioning near the crazy busy complicated Chicago airspace! This is a little tricky. See the blue lines in the bottom right of this map? This designates "Class B" airspace. To operate within its vertical and lateral limits, you need a clearance. The only way to get that clearance is to contact the controlling ATC agency and have them identify you by call sign and to give you permission. We were actually told to "remain clear" of the Class B airspace, which was fine with us, because we were below the floor of it. We did, for fear of the implications (FAA violation anyone?), confirm with a radio call that we would remain clear of the airspace at our current altitude and heading. *Whew.*

We continued to Racine, or Batten Airport, calling Kenosha tower to get clearance over their airport enroute. An aircraft on missed approach from there set off our TCAS alert (Traffic Collision Alert System), but we were able to pick them up visually. When you get a voice announcing, "Traffic, Traffic," it tends to get your attention. When you see how truly far you're missing them by, it doesn't seem like so much of an issue. I am used to traveling at higher speeds where closure rates are faster. So I think I am going to remain super sensitive to those announcements! The picture to the left is another AirRace classic airplane that was pointed out to us by the Air Traffic Controller we were getting flight following from. We passed them on the way from IJX to RAC.

When we approached Racine airport, there was already an Air Race aircraft in the traffic pattern, but they landed before we got there. We did our flyby (which you don't want to have to delay because you're being timed), and started to come back around to land. The aircraft in the picture above, though, had caught up to us and were ready for their flyby. So we extended our downwind (you make a box pattern - over the runway, turn left for crosswind, left for downwind, left for base leg, and then left for final, get it?), so they would not be impeded on the way to their flyby. We came in and landed, followed shortly by the other airplane. The second crew had family in the area (see in the above picture), so they had quite a welcome!

All the crews were welcomed, with more food, of course, and a wonderful older lady who had read about the AirRace and was inspired to come by and truly visit the airport for the first time. She was so surprised when the FBO let her right up to the ramp and let her talk to the pilots. Although she has no aspirations of flying at this late date (She was in her 70s), she wanted to meet all of the women who were. I invited her back tomorrow morning, early, about 6am, telling her the ladies in the AirRace were friendly and would love to talk with her. It was really touching to see her enthusiasm!

Last night I got a couple of posts from twitter:

Doug Hindman Jr.
dhindmanjr@GirlsWithWings Good nite and sleep well, Faith and I are just now checking the blog post.

Faith was wondering - What do you do if the weather gets bad on the last day of the race, and you r not at the finish line?

According to the rules, if the majority of the airplanes will not cross the finish line by the deadline, the officials can either extend the deadline or stop the racers where they were last able to land.

and: how much fuel will you use for the whole race? btw, Faith kindly reminded me that she is 11 not 10. Silly Dad.

We have planned conservatively needing 400 gallons for the trip. At about $4 per gallon, that's about $1600 just in fuel! We were conservative because, as the AirRace website says:

This is an “it depends” answer. The competitive spirit emerges in a big way when the starting flag drops. Airplanes flying the Air Race Classic must be rated for continuous maximum power – for a reason. Winning depends on maximum power. Maximum power gobbles fuel. The altitude and temperature have some impact on how much. Practicing this kind of flying is a good idea. To be safe, expect your airplane to use as much as 50% more fuel while racing. This is another area where your Mother Bird can offer advice.
Additionally, there are the following expenses from the AirRace Classic FAQ page.

Airplane and Team preparation: How much money this costs will vary with each team and airplane. Read the Rules, carefully fill out the Airplane Entry Form, and outfit your team and airplane. Ideally, you want to fly with your Race partner enough to have a good working relationship. Some of the other items needing attention are: ordering charts, making motel reservations, changing oil, checking sparkplugs and washing and waxing the plane. Understanding the rules and carefully preparing will mean your airplane and your team will pass Start Inspection and Registration with flying colors.

One more thing about team preparation – there is a long tradition of teams wearing matching outfits, from Start through the Terminus Banquet. It is not a requirement, but it’s a wonderful way to spot your partner across a crowded room. This is an area where Mother Birds can help.[This is where Heather and I had hoped for the pink flight suits - they were in the hands of her original co-pilot, Soph, shown to right, though, who had to return back to Australia for a pacemaker, so they will not meet up with us after all. We wish her a speedy recovery.]

Race Registration: The Race Registration Kit, which costs $30, includes the paperwork for your race application. The $425 you send in with the Race application goes toward Air Race Classic operation costs and Race Awards.

Start Registration: Start events are sponsored, planned and carried out by volunteers at the Start city. Teams are required to attend some, but not all, of the events planned. Required events are a welcome reception, the safety briefing, a Start Banquet and Start Breakfast. You will be required to send money to the Start to pay for the required events, for any optional events you have scheduled and for (optional) shirts, caps or other commemorative items you ordered. The registration fee typically ranges between $75 and $140.
You must make hotel reservations for your team in the Start city. This cost is not included in the Start Registration. Both the Start and Terminus cities do their best to negotiate a reduced rate at the hotel of choice. The hotel will have enough rooms for all teams and provides space for additional Race events.

Terminus Registration: Like the Start, the Terminus has volunteers who plan events for Race teams and handle money for required and optional costs. Required events usually include a welcome reception, a breakfast or luncheon and the Awards Banquet. Again, the registration fee typically ranges between $75 and $140. Also, as at the Start, you will make hotel reservations for your team at the Terminus. These reservations are not included with the Terminus Registration.

Transportation to and from the Race: This cost will vary for each, depending on where each team member lives, where the Start and Terminus cities are, whether you come in the same airplane and so on. Racers should budget for normal airplane costs (rental, fuel, etc,) and for the time you need to fly your airplane from your base to the Start and from the Terminus back home.

Four days of Race Expenses: Four days are set aside for the Race. You may finish the Race in fewer days. Nevertheless, you should plan for feeding you and your airplane, plus your motel costs, for all time between Start and Terminus.

It isn’t cheap, but neither was getting that pilot’s license in the first place, right? Sharing the Race experience with a number of other female pilots is priceless. Talk with a pilot who has flown the Air Race Classic, and you will hear why it is one of the most exhilarating learning experiences a pilot can have. Mother Birds can be really helpful with calculating Race expenses.

And then Doug, the twitter guy, says: Faith and I checked all the racers websites, and we decided was the best :D

Aw, shucks!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

(Today, time 1300Z, near KASL at 3500ft) We made it to the airport early, about 6am, and it was already hot and humid in Lufkin TX before the sun had come up! It was hard to wake up again at 4:30, but we wanted to get an early start to get as far as we could along our route since we are expecting a storm system toward the end of our trip. The volunteers at LFK FBO were amazing, by the way. Greeted us with cold drinks and snacks, provided rides to and from the hotel and were just in general very welcoming and friendly (especially Marianne, June and Newt).

Today we are flying to Russellville AR to do our first flyby. (The picture of the timing team is obviously taken at an airport where we landed). We will likely continue on without stopping since we topped the tanks last night. As with some single engine Cessnas, the right tank burns faster than the left, and the fuel quantity gages are not totally accurate. Topping off gives us a good reading to base our current fuel consumption off of (now we just have to go another 2 1/2 hrs without a bathroom break [someone learned the hard way yesterday about drinking all their water within 10mins and flybying the first stop - Heather].

Speaking of fuel flow, my usual ride burns Jet fuel at 1000lbs per hour. This 182 burns at about 13 gallons per hour. Sounds pretty good, huh? Except this time I am having to pay for the fuel. Even at the discounted price $3.79/gal, it cost $291 to fill up our tanks. Gulp.

I am having a great time, and am so glad I had the opportunity to do this. I am also so pleased to have the support of all the folks on twitter and facebook. A pilot dad on twitter with a 10 year old daughter sent the following messages this morning:

dhindmanjr @GirlsWithWings I answered most of her questions yesterday through various web sites and your blog post. She is sleeping right now..

And: We will send any questions your way this evening when we check your progress. Best part so far is the Daddy, Daughter ...

Then: time sharing my passion for aviation through your flight. So thanks again. :)

So additionally, I am very appreciative that others are getting a lot out of our trip!

(Time 1420Z, near KLIT at 6500ft) We just executed our flyby at RUE and climbed out enroute to KGNF. Ahead of us is R-2403A, R is for restricted. The Garmin 1000 actually displays all of the information we need to be aware that our flight route is taking us through this block of airspace. The aeronautical chart (or map) tells us info as well, like that the inclusive altitudes are surface to 16,000 ft. We are receiving flight following from Little Rock approach and were able to request the status of this airspace, which turned out to be inactive. (See it portrayed on the paper map to the right.)

We've had some interesting questions from the controllers we've been talking to along the route. Everyone wants to know why thirty some single engine aircraft are flying in the same direction. Even the controllers aren't aware of the AirRace, but Longview approach seemed to have heard of the Powder Puff Derby and was very willing to look around for more favorable winds. He asked if it was because we were losing. I told him it wasn't because we were losing, but we wanted to be "more winning." The only ones he found were at about 18,000ft which is impractical and impossible for us since we don't have supplemental oxygen.

We crossed the Mississippi River at 1510z. And my Aussie co-pilot took a picture.

We landed at Grenada MS, where our aircraft was the first to land. It was a bit disorienting not to see the usual line of aircraft parked in front of the FBO. But the folks couldn't have been nicer. In fact, one of the fueler's mother, Fredonia, had personally cooked and baked an amazing spread. We hung around here for a while, before proceeding on to Sparta, TN. Some decided to drive on to Jacksonville, IL, but we're going to wait to depart until the morning, when the storms should be weaker. Therefore, it's an early to bed, since we have a 4:15 wakeup.

Couple of new items on the GWW AirRace Page:

Thank you all for following our participation in the race and for offering your encouragement.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Well, Heather, Penelope and I are on our way! We left this morning from KAPA, Centennial Airport, at approximately 8am. That's when were all lined up *ready* to go, at least. We were all lined up, and instructed to start in sequence. Then we taxied to our runup area and completed our preflight checks. In the picture to the left, you see quite a few bags... Yes, this is what Heather and I packed. Luckily, we met up with our "Mama Birds" (women who had done the race previously) who had a car going to the terminus in Atlantic IA. They were nice enough to carry all of our extra weight (which would slow us down).

We were flying at 6,50
0ft MSL (I was typing into my blackberry and copied this into my blog once I got to the hotel) in the little arm of Oklahoma between Kansas and Texas. My Aussie co-pilot took a picture once we left Colorado, and then said after our successful flyby of KLBL, "Toto, we're not in Kansas any more!"

This Air Race event is judged not only by individual aircraft capabilities but also by the speed at which the pilots are able to fly each leg. So at each airport we have to execute a flyby so that we can get our times for the leg recorded. We can land after the flyby, or continue on. We did not land after our flyby at the airport in Liberal, KS because we had the gas to continue on to Sweetwater, and we flew there just right of runway 17 there at 3085ft MSL, or 200ft AGL (above ground level). It is not normal to fly this low (regulations require 1000ft above populated areas, 500 unpopulated), but allows the timing teams on the ground to record our time. Enroute to Sweetwater's flyby (shown at left), we tried different altitudes to get the most favorable headwind. A tailwind would be preferable, but we just left 8500 so we could go from a 16kt headwind to 8.

Forty miles from our destination, Sweetwater, where definitely had to land for food, fuel, bathroom breaks and then rehydrating!, we tried to climb back up to 8500ft to get a lesser headwind, but it was worse. We're going to burn up our airspeed every time we climb, so we'll take the 8kts at 6500. Plus, at 8500 we were bumping up against a ceiling (or clouds). We are required to stay 1000ft below the clouds to stay legal under VFR, or visual flight rules. That is a requirement of the race participants.

In the midst of all of this focus on flying is our focus on our health. We were warned that it was going to be hot, and it's 20 degrees Celcius in the air . That's not that high, right?, except that the sun is right in front of us, bearing down on us. I am used to having a bathroom on the Citation X, so I've pacing myself on drinking water. Like I said, we could have landed at LBL for fuel or a bathroom break. But since we had the fuel, that wasn't a reason to land. Someone else in this airplane was not as judicious with her water consumption, and now wishes we had chosen the other option at LBL! Shown at left is the little tent under which the timers are situated since it's been up to 37 degrees on the ground.

At Sweetwater, home of the Women's Air Force Pilot (WASP) Museum (I would have liked to have visited it, but we've received word that the weather is going to be bad toward the end of the race, and we want to move ahead in the course
as much as we can), we spent some time at the FBO cooling off and resting up and getting interviewed.

Leaving the Sweetwater airport, Avenger Field, was a bit
tricky because of the flyby. There were still airplanes coming in (those that had to stop at LBL) to land, so they were doing the flyby and landing, and those that had already fueled and needed to take off, circle around and go past the flyby again to start their time for this leg to Lufkin.

The flyby at Lufkin was easy. There was an aircraft on the flyby ahead of us, and by the time they turned their downwind, we were approaching the flyby point. We were quite ready to be marshalled in, shut down, and proceed to the hotel for more flight planning!