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Crossroads women win historic air race

By BY ELENA WATTS - EWATTS@VICAD.COM
June 25, 2014 at 1:25 a.m.
Updated June 26, 2014 at 1:26 a.m.

Racing Aces members stand with their Cirrus SR-22 aircraft.

TO APPLY FOR SCHOLARSHIP

Women of any age pursuing an education in aviation can apply for the $5,000 scholarship online at theracingaces.com. The application will be available in July.

The Racing Aces flew away with the 38th annual Air Race Classic win last week by an unusually wide margin.

"The spread was about two-and-a-half knots between first and second place," said Dianna Stanger, one of three women pilots on the team. "And it's usually more like a half-knot difference."

Stanger, 52, of Port Lavaca, raced for the fourth time this year, and this was her second win. This was the first race for Erin Cude, 29, of Victoria. Joyce Wilson, 52, of Bogata, raced for the fifth time. This was her first win.

"It's so important to pick the right teammates because we're a bunch of alpha females," Stanger said. "Sometimes, it's tough to fly together, and teams don't finish."

The four-day, cross-country, all-women race began in Concord, Calif., and ended in Harrisburg, Pa. Although 52 teams entered the race, only 31 finished the 2,400-statute-mile journey because of intense weather conditions.

Snow and ice in Pinedale, Wyo., and twin tornadoes in Norfolk, Neb., were some of the conditions the pilots weathered along the way.

News stations contacted the pilots to request they shoot video of the neighborhoods that were wiped out by the tornadoes, Stanger said.

"We saw all four seasons in one day," Cude said. "The day would start at 26 degrees and end at 95 degrees."

The first third of the terrain was mountainous, which was new scenery for Cude. The Victoria flight instructor has spent the majority of her flight hours over South Texas. Stanger and Wilson have more experience navigating mountains.

"Alarms were going off because we were so close to the terrain; it was a lady's voice," Cude said. "But you gain trust (in the other pilots) quickly."

The pilots optimized their flight by finding tailwinds whenever possible and deviating from the straight path as little as possible.

"The slower planes are at a disadvantage because they have to keep going," Stanger said. "They can't sit on the ground and wait for the weather."

The Racing Aces rode the fronts, which helped push their Cirrus Aircraft across the country as quickly as possible, Cude said. Three of the other airplanes flew within one knot of the Racing Aces' handicap speed.

"There are lots of rules; it's intense and very strategic," Cude said. "We would sit on the ground, watch 10 to 15 planes fly over and wonder who was making the right decision."

The Racing Aces finished the race in three days but had to wait another three days to learn they had won. Judges had to tally the teams' scores based on handicaps.

At the awards ceremony Saturday, four prizes per leg of the race were awarded to teams that did not place in the top 10. The slow, suspenseful countdown followed.

"When they announced the second-place winner, there were tears and hand-holding," Cude said.

The pilots won gold Abingdon aviator's watches and Bose aviation headsets. The team won $5,000, which it intends to invest in a scholarship for a woman pursuing a career in aviation.

After her first win in 2012, Stanger awarded a $5,000 scholarship to Whitney Brouwer, a flight student at LeTourneau University. Brouwer has since graduated and has accepted a position as first officer with an airline.

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