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East Valley Focus

VAN NUYS : Keen Navigation Wins Top Air Prize

November 05, 1994|ALICIA DOYLE

Frank Kelly entered the 16th Valley Air Derby in Van Nuys last month because he thought it would be "fun."

But it was the pinpoint navigation Kelly conducted inside his blue and white Piper Dakota that earned the Granada Hills resident a first-place award.

"I knew we would place, but we didn't expect to place first," said Kelly, who shared the title with co-pilot Larry Selznick of Newhall.

Pilots who participated in the annual event were required to perform seven flybys--200 feet above a timing line at speeds up to 200 m.p.h.--at airports along the way to allow race officials to make sure no one had taken any unauthorized short cuts.

The key to winning the derby was to stay strictly on course and find the altitudes with the best tail winds. Planes of many types flew northeast on a timed, 400-mile zigzag course that took them over the Grapevine, through the Antelope Valley and the Mojave Desert and across the southern tip of Nevada.

The race was sponsored by the San Fernando Valley chapter of the Ninety Nines, an international women pilots' association whose first president was Amelia Earhart, America's most famous woman pilot.

This year, about half of the estimated 25 competitors were men.

Participants called it a unique opportunity for experienced and novice pilots alike to sharpen their flying and navigational skills.

Michael and Paula Sandling of Woodland Hills placed second after competing in an orange, white and brown Cessna.

Diann Laing traveled from Reno with Lisa Shilling to participate. The two went home with a third place award.

"It was our first trophy," said Laing, a 53-year-old who learned to fly in 1976. "Our goal was to fly as low and fast as we could and hope for the best."

The top three finishers received cash awards and trophies.

A portion of the funds from this year's race will go toward the Ninety Nines' scholarship program for student pilots.

The Ninety Nines was founded in 1929 on Long Island, N.Y., to further aviation education and safety and promote women in aviation. Valley women pilots founded the local chapter, based at Van Nuys Airport, in 1952.

Among its 90 members are three former WASPs--Women Air Force Service Pilots--who ferried aircraft across the country and performed other flying duties for the military during World War II.

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