Look in the east Mesa sky Tuesday morning, and you’re sure to see many small planes taking off. It’s the 30th-annual Air Race Classic, an all-women transcontinental air race with roots in the 1929 Women’s Air Derby.
For the first time, the race will start from Mesa’s Falcon Field.
This year’s race will have at least two teams of women from the Valley, including Marge Thayer of Mesa and Ruby Sheldon of Phoenix. The two experienced pilots have flown together since the mid-1980s. This will be their 15th classic together, and they have won several awards, including winning the race twice.
“She points, I drive,” said Thayer, who has been flying for about 35 years. “I like her because she’s light.”
The two met in the 99s, an International Organization of Women Pilots. Thayer and Sheldon are flying together in Thayer’s Cessna 182 RG.
Sheldon, one of the oldest pilots at 88 years old, said she enjoys flying with Thayer because she’s her “autopilot.”
“I don’t want to work as hard,” she joked. “She’s a good pilot.”
Sheldon also is a race board member, responsible for inspecting the planes before the race and checking all the props to make sure they are at the right specifications.
The four-day race has eight stops and will end at Menominee, Mich., covering about 2,400 miles. About 35 teams of women from across the country will compete for cash prizes for the top 10 teams. First place is worth $5,000.
Prizes also awarded for such things as the highest scoring rookie team, the highest-scoring team racing in a Piper aircraft and even to the team that finishes last. That team will win $100.
“Once you’re hooked, you can hardly wait for next summer,” said Thayer, the start chairwoman of the race who has been trying to get the race in Mesa for years. “It’s a great sport for women.”
The women say the challenge, the camaraderie and the competition keep them interested in the race.
“It’s a different kind of flying,” said Helen Beulen, who flew in the race last year with Thayer and has been flying for 15 years. “It definitely makes you a better pilot.”
Beulen of Mesa is a corporate pilot and flies private jets by day for Coffman Co. She said she enjoys everything about flying, and all she has to do is get airborne and her cares go away.
Judy Yerian of Chandler, flying for the first time in the race, is teaming up with Beulen. They will be flying in Yerian’s Cessna 182. For practice, they competed a smaller race in March around the Laughlin, Nev., area.
“I’m looking to see what kind of challenge it’s going to be,” said Yerian, who has been flying for 10 years. “Can I fly low and fast enough to make the turns for those fly-bys?”
For information on the race, visit the Web site www.airraceclassic.org.