‘Sky Vixens’ Represent CJP in 41st Annual Air Race Classic
By Rob Finfrock
Held every summer, the Air Race Classic continues the proud legacy of women’s air racing in the U.S., and this year’s race included a team with strong ties to CJP. Team Sky Vixens (Race 28) was comprised of CJPers Teresa Ortega and Jan Carpenter, and Tessa Roberts from Bombardier. The Sky Vixens’ aerial chariot was N262MT, a 2016 Cessna 182T from the Textron Aviation employee flying club.
With Tessa flying as PIC, Jan and Teresa switched between radio and navigation duties in the right seat, and serving as a third set of eyes to scan for traffic in back. “The three of us made one awesome pilot,” Teresa said. “We each added to the cockpit in different ways, at different times. There really is no replacement for being able to work together as a team.”
This was Tessa’s second year participating in the Air Race Classic. “Having completed the entire course last year, I knew I could do it,” she recalled. “I thought it would be awesome to participate in this with my friends, so they could experience it as well – because once you’ve completed the challenge, you are invigorated and you feel invincible.”
“One of my reasons for saying yes was to spend time with Tessa and Teresa,” Jan added, “and to see the United States from low altitude. It was also an honor to join an elite group of aviators throughout history who’ve participated in the Air Race Classic; Amelia Earhart is in that group!”
Strategy, Weather Avoidance, and Patience
The 41st Annual Air Race Classic launched from Maryland’s Frederick Municipal Airport (FDK) on June 20, with stops at Coshocton, OH (I40); Indianapolis, IN (MQJ); Decorah, IA (DEH); Bemidji, MN (BJI); Spencer, IA (SPW); Abilene, KS (K78); Ardmore, OK (1F0); and Plainview, TX (PVW). The last race leg ran from the Texas panhandle to the final checkpoint at Sandia Airpark East (1N1), approximately 30 nm south of the race terminus in Santa Fe, NM (SAF).
In the months prior to race start, each team flew a timed trial leg to establish a handicap time; the team that managed to post the biggest improvement against that time over all trip legs would be the winner. While teams could fly each leg on their own schedules, all flights were required to be in daytime VFR conditions, and each team had to arrive to SAF no later than June 23 at 5 pm local time.
The first test for Team Sky Vixens wasn’t even during the race itself, but on their flight to the starting line at FDK. “We encountered IFR conditions on the way in to Frederick, but the dicey conditions proved not to be a major issue because we worked as a team,” Tessa noted. “It’s amazing what you can accomplish when working together, and it’s definitely was a great example of CRM (crew resource management.)”
Once the race began, strategy became an important factor. “It wasn’t about who arrived to Santa Fe first,” Teresa said. “The clock is timing you from the second you fly over it, and if you haven’t evaluated the weather and obstacles properly that’s going to add to your time. Even one or two knots of headwind could make all the difference.”
For example, after consulting weather prognosis charts, Team Sky Vixens opted to spend additional time in Besmichy, MN even as others chose to launch into strong headwinds from storm systems in the area. “We spent two nights there, so we took the time to enjoy it and learn about local history,” Teresa said. “It really was a lesson in patience.”
That strategy paid off, as upon their arrival at the next stop in Spencer, IA the Sky Vixens were pleasantly surprised to find they’d received a leg award, clocking one of the race’s best times from Besmichy. “We couldn’t believe it at first,” Teresa recalled. “Did they really say us?”
“Waiting in Besmichy definitely proved to be the right call,” Tessa said. “It’s important that this wasn’t a race against other teams, but against the handicap you established a month prior to the race. It’s all about strategy, proper assessment of the route and weather conditions, and beating the clock. The slowest plane can win the race.”
Another challenge involved the requirement to overfly each timing checkpoint at just 200′ AGL under a special waiver from the FAA. “Ardmore (OK) was extremely tough to locate when flying so low,” Jan said. “There were smokestacks all around, and a berm off the end of the runway.”
“There were a few times when navigating was difficult even with the G1000,” Tessa added. “I can’t imagine what it was like to fly that first race back in 1929, open cockpit and dead reckoning, and not even being able to use sectionals – because the charts were considered ‘too difficult for ladies to read.'”
Fond Memories… and Important Lessons
When the final results were tallied, the winners were Kiwi Express, a two-woman team out of New Zealand. Team Sky Vixens placed 30th out of 51 teams, which marked an 11-place improvement over Tessa’s first race in 2016. “I’m moving in the right direction!” she said. “And I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
“My best memories of this year’s race will be working as a team with two absolutely fabulous fellow pilots and friends,” Tessa continued, “and also the opportunity to meet so many other fantastic women of all ages and across so many different backgrounds. All of them were inspirational, and helped to reinvigorate my passion for aviation. I was honored to be around them all.”
The race was a particularly enlightening experience for Jan, who earned her PPL in September 2015 (Teresa’s husband, Kirby Ortega, was her flight instructor) after being inspired to pursue her own certificate from participating in CJP’s Companions course.
“I had something of a meltdown the night before we left for Frederick,” Jan recalled. “It suddenly hit me – oh my God, what was I thinking? I must be crazy! Once we were 30 minutes or so out of Wichita, though, things settled right into place. I realized, I’ve got this, and that I really did know a lot more than I thought I did.
“That really boosted my confidence, and that feeling will stay with me as I now look towards my instrument checkride,” she continued.
For Teresa, her first Air Race Classic reaffirmed her appreciation for working in the industry. “I’ve always had a passion for fostering aviation, particularly in young women,” she said. “I wanted to be pushed to a level I hadn’t been at before, and participating in the race certainly helped me achieve that.”
The 2018 Air Race Classic will launch June 19 from Alva, OK with the race terminus in Fryeburg, ME on June 22. To learn more, visit www.airraceclassic.org.