More than 100 women pilots on Tuesday will prove they haven’t forgotten their routes or their roots. They’re taking off at 8 a.m. in Sweetwater, Texas, in the 2018 Air Race classic. By nightfall, perhaps, they’ll make Faribault, Minn., enroute to the finish line in Fryeburg, Maine.
It’s the only women’s air race in the country, a throwback to the original Powder Puff Derby, pioneered by Amelia Earhart.
The course this year is a tribute to the pioneering women of aviation, which is why Faribault is a stop on the route. It was the home of Betty Strohfus, one of the first WASPs who spent her later years fighting for the recognition of female pilots in World War II, and their right to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Strohfus died in 2016 and is buried in the family plot in Faribault.
Fifty-five planes will hit the sky 30 seconds apart in Sweetwater, where the WASPs trained decades ago.
Because the planes in the race are of different vintage, each is assigned a handicap and the standings depend on the pilots’ ability to exceed their handicap. It won’t be easy in 2018 thanks to the weather that’s impacted the Midwest.
Eighteen colleges, including the University of North Dakota, have teams in the race.
Assuming the races take a one-hour fuel and lunch stop en route to Faribault, the planes should reach Minnesota between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m.
The pilots can stop at any of several locations (Oklahoma and Nebraska are the first “stops” and Galesburg, Ill., is the next destination after Faribault) after making a low-altitude timing pass over the runway.
It’s unclear whether most of the pilots will stop for the night in Minnesota or try to press on to Illinois before sunset. Assuming a one-hour stop in Faribault, trying to reach Galesburg would be cutting it close to sunset. The rules do not allow the pilots to fly at night.