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High-flying women spread their wings for the 18th annual Gold Cup Air Rally

Mary Norman, from left, Rani Tolton, Marilyn Dickson, Susan Begg, and Val Marshall in front of a Cessna 185 amphibian aircraft that was in the Gold Cup Air Rally. “It’s not a race, we do this for the camaraderie and excitement of flying,” chimed Begg, one of the pilots in the spot landing.
Mary Norman, from left, Rani Tolton, Marilyn Dickson, Susan Begg, and Val Marshall in front of a Cessna 185 amphibian aircraft that was in the Gold Cup Air Rally. “It’s not a race, we do this for the camaraderie and excitement of flying,” chimed Begg, one of the pilots in the spot landing. - Desiree Anstey

22 women soar over Summerside as part of a challenging cross-country event

SLEMON PARK, P.E.I. - In nine small aircrafts, with a windscreen full of spectacular scenery, 22 women soared over the cloudless Summerside skyline on Saturday morning as part of a fun and challenging cross-country air rally that originated from Rockcliffe, Ont.

Marking the spot landings is Val Marshall, one of the organizers of this year’s Gold Cup Air Rally, and Dave Thomas, who has more than 40 years of flying experience under his belt and is also the Navigator of the Canadian Owners Pilot Association (COPA).
Marking the spot landings is Val Marshall, one of the organizers of this year’s Gold Cup Air Rally, and Dave Thomas, who has more than 40 years of flying experience under his belt and is also the Navigator of the Canadian Owners Pilot Association (COPA).

Marilyn Dickson began the ‘Gold Cup Air Rally’ in 2000 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Canadian chapter of the Ninety-Nines Inc., an international organization of women pilots.

“We wanted an event where female pilots could really enjoy each other’s camaraderie while flying together, as well as sharpen their aviation skills in a fun way,” explained Dickson.

She said a highlight for the women was, “When Captain Mary Cameron-Kelly and crew from Greenwood Nova Scotia Air Force base, flew the four-engine Aurora by on a training mission.” Dickson flashed a smile and continued, “And our first cross country event is definitely the most memorable.”

As a flying instructor, Dickson wanted to address an essential skill.

If participants ever found themselves in a survival situation after a plane crash, they would not only be equipped with an emergency kit onboard their aircraft but have the skills needed to stay alive.

“We informed all the participants before they departed London, Ont., that we had organized a special meal in Trois-Rivières, Qc. The French are noted for their gourmet cooking, so the women came all nicely dressed, makeup on, and ready to enjoy some nice French food.”

Meanwhile, Dickson had arranged something completely different with the airport manager.

In nine small aircraft's 22 women teamed up and soared over the cloudless Summerside skyline on Saturday morning as part of a fun and challenging cross-country air rally that originated from Rockcliffe, Ont.
In nine small aircraft's 22 women teamed up and soared over the cloudless Summerside skyline on Saturday morning as part of a fun and challenging cross-country air rally that originated from Rockcliffe, Ont.

“It was a survival test, so I had ordered 25 raw chicken breasts. The women would need to go into the bush to gather firewood, build a fire and then cook their chicken. I also ordered a salad, fresh rolls and a nice dessert, but the main thing was to test their fire building skills.

“They grumbled and jabbed that it was a joke, and I think the television crew that turned up were the only thing that prevented the women from lynching me!" she laughed.

When it comes to saving a life the test was a small price to pay.

The group continue to compete in activities as part of their rally, although the survival test was only done once.

While at Slemon Park, pilots were given two attempts to spot land.

A white line (consisting of baking flour) was spread across a section of the 200 ft-wide runway. The pilot landing closest to the line – and not before – was awarded a prize and the opportunity to plan next year’s event.

Val Marshall is one the organizers of this year’s event, along with Rani Tolton.

Pilot Susan Begg positions her aircraft to spot land.
Pilot Susan Begg positions her aircraft to spot land.

“It’s like a sisterhood,” admitted Marshall. “Getting to travel across the country, meet the community, and go to places off the beaten track of the map is incredible.”

Marshall acknowledged cross-country flying requires detailed planning and consideration for weather.

“I’ve seen some fantastic landscapes while flying cross-country. I’ve flown to the Caribbean over the aqua-blue water and felt an incredible peacefulness and freedom to fly. Then I’ve been in Oklahoma’s ‘Tornado Alley’ where the weather was very windy, but still sunny and considered good to fly.

“You have to be flexible with the weather and hopefully you will make your destination, but if you don’t you have to be prepared to go somewhere else.”

Weather permitting, the journey with two or three in each plane will continue to Iles de la Madeleine on Monday.

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