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Pilots soar in Okie Derby at Sundance Airport

Phyllis Howard, who participated in the first Okie Derby 41 years ago, reviews the rules while Gail Foote, this year’s chair, looks on. Photo / Chris Eversole


Sundance Airport drew husbands and wives, brothers and sisters and University of Oklahoma students on Saturday for the Okie Derby.
Participants also included a father and son, a father and a daughter and a grandfather along with his son and grandsons.
The event, in its 41st year, tests the aviation skills of teams.
Phyllis Howard is the only member of the original group who was involved this year.
One of her responsibilities was to go over the rules with the teams before event.
“Be safe,” she emphasized again and again.
When she asked who was flying in the Okie Derby for the first time, eight to 10 hands went up.
“That’s what we’re looking for: new people every year,” she said.
Beginning at 9:45 a.m., the planes lined up with the goal of taking off at two-minute intervals.
They realized they wouldn’t keep exactly to the schedule because, from time to time, other planes would interrupt their schedule at Sundance, located at 13000 N. Sara Road, between Yukon and Piedmont.
Howard, 82, was a passenger in the winning plane, piloted by Brian Townsend and co-piloted by his brother, Chris.
Pilots were provided with a course to fly that encompassed C.E. Page, Duncan and Weatherford airports before heading back to the finish at Sundance.
They flew past the other airports but did not land at them.
Each team had predicted its fuel usage during flight and the elapsed time to fly the course before it departed.
The Townsend team predicted its fuel exactly – at 20.5 gallons – over the 191-mile course.
“I only hit my fuel exactly one time in my years as a pilot in the Derby,” Howard said.
She credited Jerry Hunter, the owner of Sundance Airport, with running a great facility that was very accommodating to the Oklahoma Chapter of the International Organization of Women Pilots, which sponsors the event.
It began at Westheimer Field in Norman and later was held at Wiley Post Airport before moving to Sundance six years ago.
One year, the event had 42 entrants, including teams from Texas, Arkansas Kansas, Missouri and California.
“That was a monster,” Howard said. “The 13 this year were more manageable.”
The derby raises money for the Wings of the Future Scholarship, and it has generated more than $75,000 since its inception.
Brenda Hagar of Mustang served as the derby’s fuel judge for years, but she was unable to participate this year.
“People come from all over,” Howard said.
“What we have in common is a love of aviation.”

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