Pilots in all-female race land in Fryeburg

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Brenda Thibodeau and her grandsons, Brett Thibodeau, 3, left, and Tucker Thibodeau, 4, meet fly girls Gabriella Lindskoug and Jordan Cantrell at the Eastern Slope Regional Airport in Fryeburg on Friday afternoon. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

FRYEBURG — Pilots participating in the Air Race Classic finished the cross-country contest for the first time in Maine, landing at the Eastern Slope Regional Airport on Friday.

The 42nd annual female-only race began at Avenger Field Airport in Sweetwater, Texas, and drew 117 pilots, including 20 collegiate teams. After taking off Tuesday morning, the competitors made stops at checkpoints in Oklahoma, Nebraska, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and New York. They flew more than 2,600 miles in four days.

Because of some rough weather encountered in Indiana, Brenda Thibodeau, terminus stop manager, said the pilots’ flight times were only taken into account for the first two checkpoints, plus the flight from New York to Maine. Those three times will be combined to determine the winners.

The roots of the race can be traced to famous pilots such as Amelia Earhart, who flew in the very first women-only race, then called the Powder Puff Derby. Since then, the name of the race has changed a few times — this being the 42nd year under the name Air Race Classic — but the pilots’ love of flying has stayed the same.

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“I love being able to go anywhere in the world, and see everything from a different perspective,” said pilot Gabriella Lindskoug. “I love to just play around in the clouds.”

Lindskoug landed on Friday after flying in the ARC for the second time, and said she’ll definitely be back for a third. She’s “addicted.”

“We caught the fever,” said Lindskoug’s partner, Jordan Cantrell, who also completed her second race Friday, and owns the plane the two Middle Tennessee State University students flew in, a Cessna Skyhawk 172R.

Team “Purple Hearts,” consisting of pilots Teresa Camp, who completed her fourth race Friday, and Denise Robinson, who completed her second, said the race is “completely exciting” and peppered with “moments of terror.”

“It’s better than ‘wow,’” said Robinson, who, with Camp’s help, described an incident in the air that highlighted one of the many challenges pilots face while above the clouds.

“It was our first race, and we were over the desert, about two days into it,” said Camp, “when all of a sudden Denise just climbs in the back and disappears.”

“I had to go,” Robinson said. “I was trying to find a container.”

And she did — a Tropicana jug from their morning orange juice.

“You don’t realize how small that (container’s opening) is until you’re flying 150 mph, bouncing around one mile above the Earth,” Robinson said.

The pair also flew over wildfires in the Rocky Mountains during their 2016 race.

“The heat was crazy,” Robinson said. “Visibility was almost nothing.”

Despite flying’s many risks and challenges, the thrill of the skies likely will keep the women of the ARC coming back for more.

“When you’re flying, all your problems are below you,” Cantrell said. “I used to always look at the birds, and just be fascinated by their wings and the way they could fly. You get a view of the Earth not many people see.”

The winners of the 42nd ARC will be announced Sunday evening.

emarquis@sunmediagroup.net

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