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Okie Derby air rally aids women pursuing highflying dreams

Ninety Nines member and 2010 ‘Wings of the Future Scholarship’ winner Susanna Roberts, seen standing by a T-6 Texan II at Vance Air Force Base in Enid, OK, will be helping out at the Okie Derby on Saturday, August 18 at Wiley Post Airport. Roberts plans on making a career out of flying. Photo provided

By Darla Shelden

Contributing Writer


The Spirit of Friendship 34th Annual Okie Derby weekend will soar out of Wiley Post Airport, on Friday and Saturday, August 17 and 18. The event is sponsored by the Oklahoma Chapter Ninety Nines, International Organization of Women Pilots.


The Derby takeoff will be Saturday morning at 8 a.m., from the Atlantic Aviation building, 5901 Philip J Rhoads Avenue, in Bethany, OK and the public is invited. Open to men and women pilots, the Okie Derby is a 225 mile round robin proficiency flight.


The Okie Derby supports the “Wings of the Future Scholarship” by assisting women in realizing their dream to fly,” said Charlene Davis, Ninety Nines OK Chapter Chair and Okie Derby Co-chair.

Since 1990, more than $65,000 has been awarded for the flight training of aspiring women pilots.  The scholarship program encourages interest in aviation and honing of pilot skills.

“This scholarship is an excellent opportunity for our group to support Oklahoma women in aviation, including women seeking their private pilot’s license as well as those who are working toward more advanced ratings,” said Donna Jackson, Ninety Nines Scholarship Chair. “It gives them a financial boost for their journey of achieving their aviation goals.” 

Established in 1929 by 99 women pilots, the members of The NinetyNines, Inc., are represented in all areas of aviation today.

“I grew up around airplanes, but one day a family friend asked if I wanted to fly in a Cessna. I got hooked,” said Susanna Roberts, ‘Wings of the Future Scholarship’ winner in Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) at Vance Air Force Base in Enid. “I then started flying as a hobby in college. Now I’m making a career out of flying. I love it!”

The object of the Derby is for contestants to demonstrate their ability to fly a cross country course exactly as they have estimated in advance. Fuel estimates are turned in Saturday morning just prior to the start.  

Time around the course is measured to the nearest second and fuel to the 10th of a gallon. The race is flown during daylight hours under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) conditions and conducted on a handicap system. Entry fee is $45 per plane.

“I will be there marshalling the aircraft, sending them out and catching them when they come back,” said Roberts. “It’s very competitive. It’s kind of like a reunion every year. There’s usually about 30 planes flying and there are lots of people working the ramps, the tower, timers, and spotters, it’s a good time.”

The course is kept a secret until the pilot briefing on Friday evening before the Derby.

The only person with a perfect score in 33 years to win the “Okie Derby” is Jeff Sandusky, Director of Cirrus Aircraft and President of the Oklahoma Pilots Association. In 2009 he was flying his Piper Warrior with Julie Orrick.  

“I’m sponsoring the Ninety Nines and the Okie Derby in order to help increase their scholarship fund,” said Sandusky. “As President of the Oklahoma Pilots Association my goal is to increase that scholarship fund as well. We really want to get more people who have an interest in aviation to come out to the airport.”

Teams from the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University, Spartan Aeronautics, Oklahoma Pilots’ Association, Experimental Aircraft Association, Civil Air Patrol, Federal Aviation Administration, Atlantic Services, and the Ninety-Nines will be part of this year’s derby themed “Spirit of Friendship.” Each team will include a licensed pilot and a navigator who doesn’t need to be a pilot. 

On Friday, from1 – 6 p.m., planes will be impounded at Wiley Post Airport. The Oklahoma Chapter Ninety Nines invites flyers, volunteers, and Okie Derby supporters to visit the hospitality room at the Clarence E. Page Building that afternoon prior to the mandatory pilot briefing at 6:30 p.m. at the same location.

“You don’t have to be involved in aviation to come out and visit during the Derby,” said Sandusky. “We’re going to have a hamburger and hotdog cookout on Saturday afternoon and everyone is welcome to join us.” 

Pilot and co-pilot trophies will be awarded for eight places Saturday night at the Awards Banquet, which will be held at the Embassy Suite Hotel, 1815 S. Meridian, at 6:30 p.m.  Tickets are $30 for adults, $15 for children 6 to 12 and kids under 5 yrs of age are free. Derby room rates are $104 per night.  

Headquartered in Oklahoma City, the Ninety-Nines, Inc. is an international organization of licensed women pilots from 35 countries, with thousands of members throughout the world. The Ninety-Nines are women pilots who promote advancement of aviation through education, scholarships and mutual support while honoring their unique history and sharing their passion for flight.

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