Women pilots' cross-country race to begin in Tri-Cities

By Dori O'Neal, Tri-City HeraldJune 15, 2013 

PASCO -- The oldest all-women pilot air race, called Air Race Classic, begins Tuesday at the Tri-Cities Airport in Pasco.

The pilots will make eight stops during the 2,128-nautical mile race that ends in Fayetteville, Ark.

Referred to as the crown jewel of women's aviation, the event started in 1929 with 20 women pilots, including Amelia Earhart, said Jasmine Gordon, a spokeswoman for the organization.

This year about 100 pilots are expected to take part in the race.

"We are excited to bring the ARC back to Pasco," said Marjy Leggett, chairwoman of the ARC start committee.

The last time the race was based in the Tri-Cities was in 1984 as part of the Pasco Centennial celebration, Leggett said.

"We are delighted they chose to return to our area," she said. "Safety is our highest priority and the rules are very strict about the condition of the airplanes and the qualifications of the pilots."

The pilots come from all over the country, as well as Rome, Japan and Kosovo, Gordon said.

Monica Oakes, a 63-year-old pilot from Omak, is making her inaugural flight in the ARC race. She's also a member of the Tri-City chapter of the Ninety-Nines Inc., an international organization of women pilots.

"I'm looking forward to this because it's my first Air Race Classic," Oakes said in an email to the Herald. "I started flying with my dad in his Cessna 182 in early childhood and soloed when I was about 17."

Each pilot in the ARC will bring one other person flying with them as navigator/copilot. Oakes recruited a fellow pilot from Austin, Texas to accompany her.

"I did fly another race once from Hayward, California to Las Vegas where you calculated your time and fuel," Oakes said. "This race is different because it is all about who lands first in Fayetteville."

The public is invited to a barbecue to meet the pilots starting at 6 p.m. today at the Chep Gauntt hangar at the Tri-Cities Airport. Cost to attend is $30 at the door.

On Sunday, a takeoff banquet is planned for 6 p.m. at the Red Lion Hotel in Kennewick. Cost is $50 at the door.

The pilots take off at 8 a.m. Tuesday.

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