ELKO — The annual Air Race Classic is in its 38th year, however, this is the first time the race has ever come through Elko. The race features only female pilots.
Elko is the second stop on the map of the race that started in Concord, California, and concludes in New Cumberland, Pennsylvania. The first stop of the journey was Klamath Falls, Oregon.
The race is sponsored by The Ninety-Nines Inc., which is the International Organization of Women Pilots. The organization dates back to 1927.
The race features 52 teams and includes more than 100 competitors. One competitor has a local tie. Bond Henderson’s aunt and uncle live in Elko. Henderson is from Kennewick, Washington, but currently lives in Waco, Texas.
Henderson attends Texas State Technical College and will be a junior at Baylor University. She is an aviation sciences major. Henderson flies a Cessna 172-Sierra model plane.
Henderson said, “I was a pre-med physics major, but I switched that to aviation. I love to fly.”
Of the 52 teams, 13 of them have connections to universities or colleges. Some of the schools sponsor their respective teams.
One of the competitors that did not receive school funding for the race is Megan LeMaire of Lafayette, Louisiana. LeMaire attends Louisiana Tech where she is majoring in professional aviation and minoring in aviation management. She is a newcomer compared to many of her competitors. LeMaire has only logged 60 hours of flying time since earning her pilot’s license in March.
LeMaire and her partner, Jessica Lowery, had to raise money themselves for the cost of the race. However, the school did supply them with the airplane for the race, a 2001 Cessna 172.
LeMaire said, “We raised money through selling T-shirts and help from our family and friends.”
The only Canadian plane in the event belongs to Betty Lee Longstaff of Vernon, British Columbia. The plane is a 1975 Cessna 172. She has owned the plane for 10 years.
Longstaff met her race partner, Marjy Leggett, at a Nintey-Nines board of directors meeting. They shared a hotel room and have been friends ever since. The two split flying and navigation duties. This is Longstaff’s first time entering the Air Race Classic, while Leggett is in her third experience.
Leggett said, “The first leg of the trip was really nice. We had a lot of bad weather between Klamath Falls and here. It was raining and really windy. It was hard to see.”
The next stop for the ladies is Pinedale, Wyoming. There are nine stops during the race. The total length of the race is 2,338 nautical miles and 2,691 statute miles.
Donna Engdahl of Spring Creek is the Elko stop chairperson. Chelsea Baulch helped her at the check-in and check-out booth. Engdahl also has six ladies timing the planes as they enter and leave the airport. They are timed on an inbound fly-by and an outbound fly-by.
“Due to the way it is timed, it is possible to win the race even if another plane reaches Pennsylvania first,” said Engdalh.
Some of the pilots chose to stay in Elko Monday night and must wait until at least 6:30 this morning to continue their journey. The race concludes Thursday in New Cumberland.