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All-women airplane race makes a stop in Beatrice
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All-women airplane race makes a stop in Beatrice

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For many, summer vacation is synonymous with road-tripping across the country or spending time outdoors with family and friends.

But for Nancy Rohr, summer vacation means taking to the skies.

Rohr is one of the over 100 women pilots competing in the 42nd annual Air Race Classic, which began Tuesday morning. The race is one of the oldest airplane races of its kind in the country, with Beatrice Municipal Airport serving as a intermediate stop in this year's competition.

55 small planes, flown by two or three people, launched Tuesday at 8 a.m. in Sweetwater, Texas, with the first arriving in Beatrice a little before noon.

"We get to see our friends every summer - we get to compete with them and hang out with them," said Rohr, who lives in Delaware. "It's my annual summer vacation." 

Rohr and her co-pilot Alicia Sikes of Pennsylvania were one of the first to land in Beatrice, grateful for a snack and time to relax. They credited their fast time to the Mooney M20 plane they fly, which Sikes called "fast and efficient."

The race spans four days and 15 states, ending in Maine on Friday. There are eight intermediate stops along the way - including Beatrice - where pilots execute a high-speed low pass across a timing line before either landing or heading to the next stop. 

Candie Oldham and Susan Westervelt were also one of the first to make it to Beatrice. The two have participated in the race six times together since 2000.

"We go to a lot of places we normally wouldn't stop in," said Westervelt, who lives in New Jersey. "The people that you meet are wonderful, really fantastic. That's what I tell people, if you want to meet super nice people, don't watch the news, take up flying...It's like a family." 

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Oldham, who's from Massachusetts, said the race has its challenges - especially time constraints and inclement weather.

The next stop for pilots is in Minnesota, but many on Tuesday were uncertain whether they would be able to leave Beatrice due to expected storms. Some even booked hotels in town for the night.

The annual race traces its roots to the 1929 Women's Air Derby, which featured Amelia Earhart and 19 other pilots, marking the beginning of women's air racing in the United States, according to an Air Race Classic press release. 

Rohr said she appreciates the diversity of women in the competition - ranging from college students to even one pilot in her 80s. 

"We've got aerospace engineers, professional pilots, flight instructors, teachers, nurses," said Rohr. "When you read the bios, I'm just in awe of all the women - a lot of very accomplished women." 

Diane Bartels, the publicity chair for the Nebraska Ninety-Nines, a women piloting organization, said the event garners a lot of interest and helps empower women.

"It shows that women are capable...women are more empowered," she said.

This year's competition also honors the 75th anniversary of the Women's Airforce Service Pilots, who flew during World War II and trained in Sweetwater, including Nebraska's own Evelyn Sharp.

The Air Race Classic is a handicap race, with teams racing against their own best time, not against one another, allowing slower planes to compete against faster ones. Official standings aren't determined until after the last team has crossed the finish line in Maine. One can follow the racers' progress at airraceclassic.org. Three racers had scratched as of Tuesday afternoon.

Rohr said that she hoped to reach Minnesota Tuesday night but understanding that weather might put a hold on that.

"We're going to assess the weather for the next couple of stops," said Rohr, "There have been races where a big weather system moved in, and a whole lot of people couldn't finish. You want to get as far as you can get." 

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