Dorothy Rungeling, right, with Susan Koch, in Grand Bahama, 1958. SUPPLIED PHOTO

BY GLORIA J. KATCH
Special to the VOICE

The propellers are spinning and the engines are revving at the starting line for the 43rd Annual Air Race Classic. For the first time this 3,800 kilometer event is finishing at the Niagara Central Dorothy Rungeling Airport in Pelham on June 21, at 5 PM.

Forty-nine teams and 109 women pilots will depart from the U.S. to test their flying knowledge and skills. Locals will have an opportunity to cheer on our Canadian team, the Canuck Flyers, made up of Susan Begg and Asti Livingston.

Starting June 18, participants will leave Jackson, Tennessee, veering south to Georgia, and westward to Arizona, before heading north through Minnesota and crossing into Canada through Sault Ste. Marie and Brantford, before roaring past the timing and finish line at the Niagara Central Dorothy Rungeling Airport in Niagara. The pilot team with the fastest time wins.

Air Race Classic (ARC) board of directors and volunteers are, “Thrilled to be celebrating 90 years of women’s air racing,” said U.S. Air Race Classic President, Lara Gaerte.

“The women who fly the ARC are as bold and tenacious as the pioneering pilots, who competed in the original 1929 Women’s Air Derby. We look forward to welcoming back veteran racers, and meeting new competitors at the 43rd Air Race Classic.”

Prior to the race, each plane, depending on its engine-size, performance power and speed, is given a handicap, so pilots are racing and challenging their own best time. This also creates a level playing field, so slower planes can equally compete against faster aircraft. Teams strategize to fly against the atmospheric and geographic elements, holding out for better weather or seeking more favourable winds, to beat their handicap by the greatest margin. Official standings aren’t determined until after the last team has crossed the finish line, and the judging is completed.

“The last arrival at the terminus may, in fact, be the winner,” said Gaerte.

Throughout June 21, the public is invited to watch the racers arrive at the airport. For plane enthusiasts, there will be several Cessna Skyhawks, a Piper Warrior, Cirrus SR20s G2, a Piper Cherokee, a Beechcraft Debonair 35-B33, and a Luscombe Silvair Delux 8E in the race.

2019 Air Race Classic Terminus Committee, front: Jillian Gilbert, Rita Richter, and Cathy Boyko. At rear: Peter Van Caulart, Dean Baker, Bob Cullen, and Jim Morrison. GLORIA KATCH PHOTO

On June 22, the public is invited to participate in various activities and giveaways. Afternoon ceremonies include a plaque dedication to Dorothy Rungeling, the airport’s namesake, and a presentation of the Compass Rose from the Ninety-Nines, an international women’s flying organization.

The 2019 Air Race Classic is offering giveaways for tandem jumps, introductory flying lessons through the St. Catharines Flying Club. There is a Fly (vendors) Market, career and educational booths on aviation, a meet-and-greet with the racers, photo-ops with the air cadets’ glider, vintage planes, and vintage cars by the Niagara British Car Club.

On Sunday evening, there will be a dinner and awards banquet. Prizes for the ARC 2019 include: medallions, trophies, and cash awards of $5,000, $3,000 and $2,000 for the three best times. The next day, the pilots depart en mass back to Tennessee.

The Niagara Central Dorothy Rungeling Airport is funded by the municipalities of Welland, Pelham, Port Colborne and Wainfleet, and various municipal councillors and residents make-up the airport commission. The construction of the Dorothy Rungeling airport dates back to World War II, and was one of many airports in Canada established by the federal ministry responsible for defense to train pilots for war, as a part of the British Commonwealth Airport Training Plan.