The next morning, Marion and I went out to the airport to complete our various tasks. Mine was to clean the outside of the Tailwinds World Flyer, which I did at every stop. Cleaning and waxing the airplane, particularly the leading edge, helps to maintain maximum speed. Yes, co-pilots do get all the grunt work! Marion had gone inside the FBO. As I got closer to the plane, I saw four men including Bernard, the race director, hovering around one of the engines with the cowling open. I asked what they were doing and Bernard said that they were “inspecting the engine.” I was furious and in disbelief that they would even think to touch anything on the airplane without permission, or without Marion’s knowledge or approval. With a firm tone of voice, I empathically stated, “you may not proceed until the pilot in command is present.” I saw the reaction I had expected on Bernard’s face; first a look of surprise and then, controlled anger. He was, after all, a retired French air force colonel, and used to giving orders that people followed without question. He was not used to receiving a command from anyone—let alone from a female civilian. I immediately ran across the tarmac to fetch Marion.
One of the things that I always admired about my mother was that she wasn’t afraid to get dirty literally. She believed that was all part of flying and, with aircraft ownership, came the responsibility to understand all aspects of the aircraft. This meant getting down on the cement floor when necessary along with the mechanic to peer into the landing gear, which had intermittent extension problems. It also meant that she was present and, often times, learning from the mechanic when there were other maintenance issues. Marion was a firm believer that this intimate knowledge of the airplane made her a safer and a better pilot.
On the way back to the hotel, Marion informed me that a formal protest had been filed against our team saying that the Tailwinds World Flyer had “souped-up” engines. The handicap for each aircraft was based upon the manufacturer’s specifications, so enhancing the engine performance was, in fact, illegal. I could tell that my mother was upset by this allegation, but I was angry. By that time in her life, Marion had racked up more cross-country air race victories than any other pilot in aviation history, male or female. To me, it was if they were questioning her stellar air race skills. The protest had been filed by a European team that was also flying a Twin Comanche. They could not understand how a mother-daughter team could possibly be ahead in the standings in the race. Apparently, an American team had spread a rumor that we had Lo Presti Speed Mods on the engines, which would have increased our speed. This allegation was the European’s justification for protest and, ultimately, Bernard’s reason for examining the Tailwinds World Flyer,
There was a buffet lunch for all the race teams. As we walked into the lunch area, it was obvious that the rumor of illegal engines and news of the protest had spread quickly through the group. Being engaged at the airport, we were the last to arrive for lunch. As we entered the room, literally every eye turned toward us. We ignored the looks, and went to the buffet as we knew we had nothing to hide.
By this time in the race, the Americans usually ate with the Americans and, the Europeans dined with the Europeans. After getting our food, I intentionally lead the way to one of the European tables and, asked to join the group for lunch. I had become friendly with a male pilot who was in the race just for the adventure and, he made room for us to join the group. Initially, a very award and stilted conversation ensued. I did not eat much, as I was using my best personality and charm to diplomatically point out Marion’s air racing skill set. By the end of lunch, I could tell that many of our fellow competitors no longer believed the baseless rumor.
Before taking-off for Greenland on July 8th the Tailwinds World Flyer had been cleared of any suspicion of altered engines and, the protest of any illegality had been formally denied.
Trickery on the race to Nuuk, Greenland. ©
Wishing you Blue Skies & Tailwinds! ™