Vermilion County a stop on Air Race

Vermilion County a stop on Air Race

DANVILLE — Female pilots from across the country will fly into Vermilion County next week during a leg of the transcontinental Air Race Classic.

More than 50 teams of two to three women are due to take off from Concord, Calif., on Monday morning, racing fixed-wing planes from the West Coast, across the middle of the United States, then to the finish line in Cumberland, Pa.

Along the way are eight stops where racers must either do an official fly-by to record their time, refuel or stay overnight.

Vermilion Regional Airport, just northeast of Danville, is the seventh stop in the approximately 2,400-mile course that goes from California to Oregon, Nevada, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, across Indiana to Ohio and on to Pennsylvania.

Suzi Harmon, office manager at Vermilion Regional, is coordinating the airport's role in the race, which includes everything from officially timing the planes as they come in to refueling, providing maintenance support and shuttling pilots to hotels.

"It's exciting," said Harmon, who expects most of the planes to fly in Wednesday.

There's a chance some of the faster aircraft could make it to Danville as soon as later in the day Tuesday. Planes can only fly between sunrise and sunset, so all of those coming into Danville must be in by 8:30 p.m., and if staying the night, can't take off until 6:30 a.m.

Pilot and former ARC competitor Marolyn Wilson of Utica, N.Y., said the majority of the teams will likely be landing and staying the night in Danville.

"Everybody is on their own schedule," said Wilson, president of the ARC, a non-profit that organizes the race. Its history stretches back to 1929, when women's air racing started with the First Women's Air Derby and one of the racers was Amelia Earhart.

Wilson flew in 25 Air Race Classics until her flying partner retired at age 89. She said this year's field includes pilots from ages 19 to 80, from as far away as Australia, and with various aviation backgrounds. Some of the women are military, some are private pilots, some are even college students.

The race route is different each year but the rules don't change. At each of the nine checkpoints, the teams must do low fly-bys to record their official arrivals, then departures.

That's where Danville's Dale Salonen comes in.

A pilot himself, Salonen has recruited a team of 15 volunteers who'll be responsible for clocking the planes. They did a dry run earlier this week at Vermilion Regional.

"Now we all know what a proper fly-by is," he said.

Although the bulk of the planes may not come all at once Wednesday, Harmon and Wilson said it's a great opportunity for the public to watch part of this race.

Harmon hopes people bring their lawn chairs and picnic baskets to watch. There will be music and hot-air balloons (tethered).

"It's just a really good showcase for women pilots," Wilson said. "But this is the longest-running air race in the country, and we are hoping to inspire young women to come out and see what it's all about."

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