2021 ARC Air Derby Replaces Air Race Classic for 2021

The original race was cancelled because of the pandemic, but 54 teams completed the air derby.

With the 2021 ARC Air Derby format, each team developed its own five-leg course—including a team that completed a course in New Zealand.Courtesy Air Race Classic

While much of the aviation industry is increasingly returning to normal as the pandemic subsides, there are lingering signs that COVID-19 is restricting aviation activities. The Air Race Classic, an air race for female aviators with roots going back as far as 1929, was set to take place last week, but the organizers chose a very different format for its 2021 competition as a result of the pandemic.

In what was named the 2021 ARC Air Derby, the participants were tasked with developing their own courses under strict parameters. Each course had to include five legs and be completed in day VFR conditions. The flight had to take place between June 12 through 26. Each team had to estimate the flight time for each leg and the mission was to complete the flight in as close to that timeframe as possible. Additionally, as is traditional for the ARC, each team had to include at least two women pilots or student pilots. Only one current, certified pilot with a minimum of 100 hours was required, but other team members could act as pilot in command.

With this socially distanced format, the Derby was open to participants around the world. However, the organizers limited the number of registrations to 99. A total of 54 teams completed the Derby, while 22 teams were disqualified and nine teams were unable to start—likely a result of the weather.

Awards were given for the closest time estimates of each leg and the closest overall time. The overall winners of the inaugural Derby, which may very well go down in history as a one-time event, was Team 49, consisting of Emma Hughes, Emily Hause and Regine Rose Acosta of Western Michigan University. In second place was Team 92—Flatirons Flygirls—including Stephanie Wells and June Stewart. Team 82, Gabi Thorp and Louise Vickerman, who called themselves the Sin City Sisters, came in third. Interestingly, none of the overall top three teams won any of the five individual legs, and different teams won each leg. In addition to the time awards, the organizers handed out a safety award to Team 24—the Vegas Derby Divas—Lauren Scott and Glynis Olgado.

The Air Race Classic president, Lara Gaerte, announced in January that the ARC Board of Directors had decided to cancel the race in light of the “ongoing Covid-19 pandemic,” and that there would be an alternate event. In a normal year, the ARC covers 2,400 statute miles and eight or nine timing points. The participants generally span a diverse group of women pilots, ranging in age from 17 through 90. Experience levels are just as varied, from student pilots to flight instructors to commercial airline pilots. The standard ARC format is set to return next year from June 21 through 24. Registration for the event will open in January 2022.