A hangar full of teams gathers for the main weather briefing. It’s the morning of the first day of the Air Race Classic, and the focused tension in the building is palpable.
Competitors all—whether new to the game or not—whisper strategy amongst themselves as the chief meteorologist tasked with the briefing delivers the verdict: Good VFR conditions across the route. Light winds. A high pressure system creating no major weather concerns—except for the haze driven by summer humidity across the Midwest.
The race is on.
A New Year, A New Race
Now preparing for the race’s 45th year, the ARC’s leadership team is focused on bringing back the original long-distance format of the race after the pandemic forced a creative Air Derby version in 2021 and the complete cancellation of the race the year before.
However, the organization took lessons learned from hosting the single-day 2021 circuit race—flown in locations determined by each team—and the new inclusion of a broader range of airplanes accepted for competition in forming the guidelines for the 2022 race.
The course generally outlines either a point-to-point or round-robin route across the U.S., and sometimes into Canada. The route typically includes nine or 10 stops over a roughly 2,500 nm course.
This year’s race—which runs from June 21 to 24—starts in Lakeland, Florida (KLAL). From there, the stops include:
- Moultrie, Georgia (KMGR)
- Muscle Shoals, Alabama (KMSL)
- Hattiesburg, Mississippi (KHBG)
- Pine Bluff, Arkansas (KPBF)
- Ada, Oklahoma (KADH)
- Lawrence, Kansas (KLWC)
- Mt. Vernon, Illinois (KMVN)
- Tullahoma, Tennessee (KTHA)
The terminus of the race takes place when the last airplane crosses the finish line in the sky at Terre Haute, Indiana (KHUF).
Ray Foundation Support
The Air Race Classic’s mission to increase pilot education and elevate experience has enabled it to be recognized by the Ray Foundation, a private charitable organization focused on advancing general aviation.
“The Air Race Classic is deeply honored to announce that we have been awarded a restricted matching grant by the Ray Foundation for the purpose of developing and operating our educational program,” ARC said in a statement. “All funds raised and received by the ARC during the calendar year of 2022 and identified for education will be matched dollar for dollar up to $25,000.”
In order to preserve a level playing field between airplanes flying the race, the ARC has long used a relatively narrow band of aircraft allowed to compete. The organization has recently refined its rules to allow other aircraft to participate—namely those with turbocharged or supercharged piston powerplants—but only normally aspirated piston singles can fly in the “competition class.”
The ARC still does not allow experimental aircraft to compete, but they seek pilots with airplanes in the E-AB class to participate this year for evaluation and data collection towards possible inclusion in a future race. Light sport aircraft are allowed as long as they meet performance requirements.
So What’s the Cost?
Racing’s not cheap—the entry fee per team runs $1,298 this year and covers:
- Race awards and prizes
- Race, start, and terminus development and operation
- Racers’ event and banquet tickets
Racers can also anticipate spending another $3,500 to $4,500 in fuel, travel, and accessory expenses all told. Those who have participated in the past equate the expense—and corresponding benefit and experience gained—to that of adding a rating or endorsement to a pilot certificate.
How To Enter the Race
Interested in joining in? The deadline for race registration is 11:59 pm EDT on March 31.
With 98 racers registered so far, the ARC is looking for number 100. You’ll need copies of your pilot certificate, medical certificate or BasicMed documents, and a government-issued photo ID. Send any entry questions to email@example.com
Once you’ve registered as a team, you’ll need to register your airplane. The complete online airplane registration form and complete AD list must be submitted before the airplane registration closing date, May 15, at 11:59 pm EDT. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with airplane questions.