Pilots test math skills at Okie Derby

Upcoming Okie Derby tests pilots' estimates in flight.
BY SANDI DAVIS Published: August 14, 2012

Remember those word problems in math from school? Remember the few who truly enjoyed doing them?

On Aug. 18, you'll probably see an airfield full of people who loved math problems in school at the 34th annual Okie Derby Proficiency Air Rally at Wiley Post Airport, 5915 Phillip J. Rhoads Ave., in Bethany.

Pilots of single, multi-engine aircraft and experimental aircraft (one that is piloted by the builder) will fly those aircraft in a race that is about 225 miles long, or 225 statute miles in pilot language. The daytime race will use Visual Flight Rules (no aircraft instruments) and a handicap system.

What that means for the rest of us is the pilots will have a mandatory meeting Friday evening and learn the places they will fly over during the race. Then, using those math skills, they must guess within one and one-hundredths of a second how long the race will take them, and then guess within a tenth of a gallon how much fuel it will take.

They have to turn in their answers before they leave at 8 a.m. Saturday morning. Then, their fuel gauges are covered up for the race.

The winners are the ones who make the best guess about their time and fuel.

The fliers don't land at the sites of the race — they fly overhead and spotters note the tail numbers. After they land back at Wiley Post, racers will be given a chance to change their fuel usage answer, but not the time.

“It's not a speed race, it rates the proficiency of the pilots,” said Laura Ohrenberg, headquarters manager of the Ninety-Nines International Organization of Women Pilots. “They have to factor in tail winds and their particular plane. Basically, they'll fly in a big circle, around 200 miles.”

After the race, winners receive awards at a banquet. Proceeds from the race benefit the Ninety-Nines “Wings of the Future” scholarship fund to assist women who want to learn to fly.

Spectators can see all kinds of planes take off at the beginning of the race and land again later that day.

The Oklahoma Chapter of the Ninety-Nines are understandably proud of this race and what it does for future pilots, but they are just as proud of the history of their group, formed by and for women pilots in 1929, including aviator Amelia Earhart.

The Ninety-Nines chose Oklahoma City as their headquarters because of its central location; it is located in a two-story building on Amelia Earhart Lane near Will Rogers World Airport. The day-to-day business is run here and meetings are held all over the United States annually, though there are chapters worldwide.

Susan Larson of New Mexico is the outgoing president. She talked about the Okie Derby's and the Ninety-Nines' present and future.

“I've been immediate past president for 10 days now,” Larson said in a phone interview from her New Mexico home. “We have so many women doing so much. A lot more women are investigating aviation as a profession, and a lot more through the military.”

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Okie Derby Proficiency Air Rally

• When: Friday and Saturday, with Takeoff at 8 a.m. Saturday

• Where: Wiley Post Airport, 5915 Phillip J. Rhoads Ave., Bethany. Airport is between NW 50 and 63 off N. Rockwell

• Information: www.okiederby.info

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