FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — More than 100 female pilots will take off in 30-second intervals from the runway at Frederick Municipal Airport on June 20.
Among them will be Lin Caywood in her Cessna 182 four-seater plane. Caywood has flown this race seven times before, but this year will be different, as her native Frederick will host the race for the first time.
“Frederick is such a cool little town, and we wanted to share its uniqueness with our racers,” she said.
Caywood wears many hats for this event. Besides being a participant, she serves as the media contact for the race, the Air Race Classic. The four-day, cross-country competition has been in existence since 1929, when Amelia Earhart placed third. Caywood is also a member of the Sugarloaf Chapter of the Ninety-Nines, an all-female pilots association. After the race ended in Frederick in 2010, the group bid to host it this year.
Because the race is open only to female pilots, Caywood says the camaraderie is strong.
“It’s an opportunity to get together and bond over racing,” she said, before joking that among friends it’s known as “Fly Camp.”
The Air Race Classic is also what’s known as a “handicap race” and is one of only a few in the country. In this style of race, each plane is flown in a box pattern at maximum speed without excess weight. A computer then calculates the plane’s time to complete the course. Participants attempt to beat their own best times instead of racing one another.
Caywood says this levels the playing field by allowing different makes and models of aircraft to compete against one another, reducing the race to a test of the pilots’ skills.
“The biggest strategy is deciding what altitude you’re going to fly at,” said Caywood, who’s been a pilot for 14 years.
This year, the race committee decided to give flyers an added challenge. Traditionally, the course follows various paths from west to east. This summer, racers will begin in Frederick and fly west to Edgewood, New Mexico. Caywood says this route could pose potentially dangerous challenges as racers attempt to fly over the Rocky Mountains during the afternoon.
“It will be very strategic as to how they climb into the mountains,” she said.
Besides her role as a race organizer, Caywood has also taken on another task: She’s playing “mama bird” to a team of first-time racers. Each team consists of a pilot, co-pilot and an optional teammate. Her fledgling trio is the AOPAngels, made up of Luz Beattie, Kathy Dondzila and Paula Wivell, all “cubicle buddies” and co-workers at the Airline Owners and Pilots Association in Frederick. The team formed after Wivell joked that they should enter. The three talked about it for a while before receiving the push they needed to get started.
“We didn’t really think it was going to happen initially, but when AOPA encouraged us, we thought, ‘we can do this.'” Beattie said.
The company provided the team with a plane and some funding to get started, but they still had a problem. Wivell, the newest pilot of the group, still needed 30 more “pilot-in-command” hours to attain the 100 needed to fly in the race. With the help of some staff pilots in her company, she was able to build the hours needed to compete.
Beattie is a commercial pilot but has never flown in a race before. The women said one of the unexpected challenges was how many rules there are in order to record the plane’s time during the nine legs of the race.
“It’s a lot of detail work,” Beattie said. “Everything’s got to be just right.”
That’s where Caywood came in, helping the three pilots of various skill levels navigate strategies and limitations.
“We’ve done a lot of pre-planning, and I’ve shared with them how I’ve prepped,” she said. “I think they’ll do very well.”
But even if they don’t, the team says it’s not so much about winning as having a good time.
“We’ve heard there are teams that take it so seriously,” Dondzila said. “Our approach is focused on fun and safety and learning.”
As for Caywood, love of her hometown drives her competitive spirit this year.
“I would love to place in the top 10,” she said. “It’s a lot closer to my heart, being the host city.”
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