Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Check out this firsthand account from KDOT's Aviation Director as she and her 18-year-old teammate participate in the Air Race Classic

Tiffany Brown  (left) and Taylor Humphrey (right) pose in front of their aircraft.

(Tiffany Brown of the Kansas Department of Transportation is the state’s Acting Director of Aviation. She and her co-pilot, Taylor Humphrey of Winfield, Kan., are competing at team TNT in this year’s Air Race Classic, a four-day, 2,100-nautical-mile air race for women. Brown will file two more blogs this week about the race.  Below is her first one.)

As it turns out just getting to the Air Race Classic start would be an adventure in itself. The Air Race is an all-women's race with roots from the 1929 Powder Puff Derby, which was started by a group of woman including the famous Kansas aviatrix Amelia Earhart. The route changes every year and each team is composed of two to three women. Our team consists of a pilot, myself, and a copilot, 18-year old Taylor Humphrey from Winfield, Kan. 

We intended on leaving Wednesday morning from Lawrence, Kan., but Tropical Storm Bill threw a couple new challenges our way in the form of thunderstorms on our intended direct route to Fredericksburg, Va. Our departure was delayed until we could find a break in the thunderstorms around noon and we decided to take an indirect loop down south hitting Sikeston, Mo., then Crossville, Tenn., to stay the night. The flight was mainly made in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), which means you can't see where you are going and you are depending solely on instruments. Imagine driving in your car in rain so heavy you can't see anything outside and you must depend on only the information your car's gauges are giving you. That's IMC and it's very mentally straining. Not only can’t you see, but you also must dodge the worst part of the storms. We have radar on board the aircraft but it averages a delay of 6 minutes. Anyone who knows anything about storms knows that a storm can change a lot in those six minutes. Air traffic control helped navigate us around parts of the storm that was producing hail and other convective activity.

The next day was another flight in IMC over the Appalachians, which is terrain neither of us Kansans are particularly used to. Flying at 7,000 feet we were just 2,000 feet above some of the highest peaks on our route and the occasional break in clouds would give us a lovely view below. That flight was relatively uneventful. No thunderstorm activity and an easy descent into our destination airport.

As of right now my teammate and I have gone through a full day’s worth of inspections, which included reviews of our pilot credentials, logbooks for the upkeep of our airplane's engine and air frame, and a physical inspection of the airplane itself. Once our aircraft was deemed acceptable, it was impounded until Tuesday morning when the race finally begins. The rest of the week has been full of race briefings, which has included weather, timing and scoring rules, and what to expect during the race. If you are interested in following our team, Classic Race Team 45, follow this link: http://airraceclassic.org. (You can also follow the progress of another Kansas team, the “Wildcats” from K-State Salina – Classic Race Team 49.  Members of the Wildcats are Karen Morrison, Summer Gajewski and Alisha Kelso.) Each team will carry a GPS tracking device which allows anyone to follow their favorite racer on the route. 

It's been a humbling week so far to be in the ranks of so many exciting women. The professions of the women here vary from doctors to lawyers to professional pilots who have all been brought together by the love of general aviation.

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