Log In


Reset Password

Flying is freeing

Five Rogue Valley women to compete in air derby
Claire Almquist, from left to right, Patricia Orsini, Monica Weyhe with their racing aircraft.Courtesy photo

Monica Weyhe and Patricia Orsini flew up to Sunriver Wednesday morning where they joined Claire Almquist at the Cheetah Champs’ headquarters, which doubles as Almquist’s Sunriver house.

They are staying there for the next couple of days while they work out their strategy for an upcoming air derby and to practice flying their route.

The Cheetah Champs are one of the two teams from the Rogue Valley competing in the Air Race Classic Air Derby this week.

They are among more than 200 women and 84 teams participating. Each team will fly 325 nautical miles, broken up into five legs with one mandatory stop point in one of the first four legs.

The New Heights Aviatrixes, made up of Margueritte Hickman and Leigh Frisbee-Pinkerton, are flying a Cessna 182 out of Medford. The Cheetah Champs will be flying out from Sunriver.

This will be Hickman’s first time flying competitively, although she has been flying for nearly 25 years.

“I want to complete the race and I don’t want to get disqualified on any of the legs,” she said. “Next time I race, which Leigh and I have already been talking about, I’m going to be in it for the money.”

In a traditional year, the Air Race Classic would be a race instead of a derby, but because of COVID-19, the traditional four-day, 2,400 nautical miles race is a derby, which allows participants to design their own routes and fly it when they want this week.

Each team must submit their route and estimated time in advance and will be scored on how much they deviate from their route and how close to their estimated time they come.

Outside of aviation, all five have different professions — including a geologist, chiropractor, and corporate finance professional, but they have connected and bonded with each other over their shared passion.

Flying, for Orsini, feels freeing. It is just her, the plane, the clouds and an occasional co-pilot and guest or two.

“It clears the mind. You can’t carry any other worries with you because you’re so focused on the numbers and your instruments,” she said. “There’s an incredible spiritual flow to it.”

For Frisbee-Pinkerton, flying is in her blood. Her grandfather is in the Mississippi agricultural hall of fame for agriculture aviation, her father was a chief pilot for American Airlines, and her brother was in the Air Force and currently flies for Delta.

“I had the bug to go flying ever since I was little,” she said. “I just love to fly. I just love to get up there and see everything from the air.”

Her first time flying the plane was when she was 4 years old with her grandfather. Now she is teaching her two boys to fly.

Hickman, who worked in the fire service for 30 years, said that part of the reason she and Frisbee-Pinkerton, a chiropractor, make a good team is because they both work in fields that, like aviation, are majority men.

“We love sharing what we do with young women and want to help to inspire them,” Hickman said. “We want young females to know that they can be anything they want to be.”

Both teams are aiming to do their flight Friday.

Reach Mail Tribune news intern William Seekamp at wseekamp@rosebudmedia.com.