Two Mesa women, Helen Wyrick Beulen and Marge Thayer, will compete in the Air Race Classic, a national aviation competition among female pilots from Lake Havasu City to Batavia, Ohio, next week.
“Out of all the flying I do, this is the best flying,” said Beulen, a freelance commercial pilot.
The Air Race Classic is an aviation race that seeks to promote female pilots and to create a network for female pilots. Thayer and Beulen had previously won the race in 2005, but due to a number of circumstances, they haven’t raced together since.
This year is one of the largest in the history of the competition with 55 registered teams. The race can trace its roots back to the Powder Puff Derby of the 1930s when women in aviation was even more of an anomaly, Thayer said.
“Most of the women pilots were ferry pilots,” Beulen said. They moved empty plans from one place to another during World War II.
Usually, there are about 30 to 35 teams, Thayer said, adding that she has been flying for nearly three decades. This year, there has been an emphasis on college participants.
Specifically, students from Syracuse University are expected to do well, Thayer said. College students often have the benefit of a faculty to help them out and the benefit of an institution’s financial support.
But for the team of Beulen and Thayer — flying under the number 17 — it’s just the two of them.
“We call me our autopilot,” Thayer said with a laugh.
“We’re probably one of the only ones who don’t fly with autopilot,” Beulen added. “That’s why Marge flies the whole way and I navigate.”
When it comes to advantages between airplanes, a handicap policy should even the playing field so that the best flying wins the race, not the best plane, Thayer explained.
“It’s all about finding the best altitude and winds,” Beulen said. “We’ve waited all day for better conditions before.”
The two will compete in Thayer’s Cessna 182 RG, a small plane, which is kept at a hangar at Falcon Field in Mesa. Since their 2005 win, the two haven’t competed together. Instead, to increase the number of participants, they teamed with other pilots. In one year, Thayer flew with her old partner, Ruby Sheldon. The two began flying together in 1984 when Thayer bought the Cessna.
Leading up to the race, Thayer and Beulen have done a number of test flights, testing the functions of the plane and practicing the takeoff and landing procedures, Beulen said.
The race route is about 2,400 miles and participants are given four days to fly the course, with each plane given a handicap for equal footing.
Start time for the race begins at rolling during takeoff in Lake Havasu City, Beulen said. From there, flying only during daylight hours — each team lands at a stopping point — they are timed in a flyby, not the time they land. Essentially, it’s about getting the best cross-country time, without having to worry about the stopping points.
Since the winner is determined by the amount of flight time, it is possible that the last one to arrive could be the winner.
Beulen, who began flying lessons in the 1990s, knew she always wanted to learn to fly.
For Thayer, who is originally from Washington, frequent family car trips back and forth to the Northwest several times a year, necessitated her flying career.
“That way, we wouldn’t have to be gone quite as long,” Thayer explained, saying that her kids stayed in Arizona most trips.
The two began flying for different reasons, but ultimately, they both say flying is stimulating.
“It’s the focus,” said Thayer, who will be 70 later this year. “It makes you alert.”
“It keeps your mind active,” Buelen added, mentioning the number of pilots the two know who flew well past their 80s.
And when they arrive in Ohio at the end of the race, they will be greeted by a large number of friends.
“It’s like a huge party,” Thayer said.
But if it comes down to winds, altitude and weather conditions, do the two have an special techniques to help secure another win for the two?
“We have a whole bunch of techniques,” Beulen said. “But we can’t tell you, or then we’d have to kill you,” she said with a wink.
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