Alongside evolving social climate and aircraft, today’s ARC has graduated from largely speed-based competition and such gender-conscious names as the “Powder Puff Derby”, to a more complex scoring system pitting contestant’s navigational and judgment skills against their aircrafts’ respective capacities.
“The goal is to exceed the average speed of your aircraft,” Torres said. “What they’re looking for in this race’s scoring is the speed your aircraft should get versus the speed you actually got — the more you exceed average speed the better your score.”
Exceeding handicap speed, therefore, depends not just on an aircraft’s engines but on precise planning — from anticipating weather and prime altitudes to determining how much fuel and drinking water will affect weight/speed of the plane.
“There are a lot of factors to play with to shoot for the best cross-country flight,” Torres said. “It’s all about planning.”
Physical endurance will also play a part, as the cockpit temperature of Torres’ and Duncan’s Piper Warrior will average 105 degrees during flight.
In the 2011 ARC, Torres and her fellow pilot placed 11th out of 43, the highest placing team with two ARC novices. Though winning the race itself is always the driving force, beating her own score is Torres’ primary goal.
“I definitely want to beat 11th place,” Torres said. “There will be about 10 to 15 collegiate teams out of 50 entrants, and it’s a hot ticket item to get into this race.”
In spite of the high level of planning and preparation ARC participation demands, the historic and social implications of ARC are not lost on Torres or Duncan.
“I think flying with these older women pilots, we can take advantage of everything they’ve learned and everything they’ve had to overcome,” Torres said. “When you talk to women who flew 60 plus years ago, they really broke down barriers for us. It’s just nice to meet women pilots, period - women comprise 15 percent of aviation industry, if that.”