Air Racing

By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: A couple of hobbies that line up well with my career in aviation are aerobatics and air racing. I love the study of aerodynamics and taking an aircraft right to the “edge of the envelope” — making an airplane do things that reach the edge of its design capabilities. Since the airplane which my husband and I own is not aerobatic, we have to rent acro planes when we participate in those events. But air racing is another story!

                                                     Copyright Michael Ely & Linda Street-Ely

Born and raised in an auto racing family in Indianapolis, competition and speed were bred into me. As a kid, I would race anyone on anything. Foot, bicycle, go-kart. I ran track and ran for fun. I raced against the clock on my morning paper route, always trying to best my last record. My father put me in quarter-midget race car lessons when I was seven. It was only natural when I learned to fly that I would want to race.

Flying requires understanding of weather and aerodynamics, as well as an intimate knowledge of the airplane. My first air race was the 2009 all-women’s Air Race Classic, as it is known today. This is an annual race that commemorates when twenty women pilots were denied entry to the National Air Races in Cleveland in 1929, but proved that being male isn’t a prerequisite for flying. They set their starting line at the Santa Monica airport in California and the finish line in Cleveland, Ohio, landing at the National Air Races. The race took several days, and when they finished, the women had gained a new respect from the world.

                                                    Mt. McKinley on the right – Copyright Linda Street-Ely

Today’s Air Race Classic is approximately 2,500 nautical miles, time-limited to four days. The route changes every year, but it is generally across some portion of the United States, sometimes including Canada. These days, the race is so popular that the organizers cap entries at 50 airplanes. I’ve raced it four times, third place being my best finish in 2011. Drawbacks for me are the thick rule book, including the requirement for two pilots per race plane, and the time away from Mike. How excited I was to discover the Sport Air Racing League, which hosted numerous single-day races from March through November, very few rules, and men could participate!

Copyright Michael Ely & Linda Street-Ely

Mike: We joined the League, taking the first year to learn the nuances of these types of races, quite different from Air Race Classic. From that point on, we won the Gold National Title every year until we retired from racing.

What thrills us about air racing, besides the competition, is strategy—planning our altitudes for each leg, depending on the heading and the wind at various altitudes, and the precise point at which we will enter a turn, how many degrees we will bank the airplane, and exactly where we will exit the turn. Like aerobatics, this is precision flying. Our hearts pound as hard as the engine as we listen on the radio for competitors’ turn point calls—are they gaining on us?

Copyright Jo Hunter

We hold the speed record for our class in the League, at 174 miles an hour. That’s fast for a small airplane with only 150 horsepower. We research the forecast winds at various altitudes across the length of the course, looking for the most favorable. When there’s a tailwind, we let the wind push us up gradually to the altitude where it is greatest. Other little tricks include stuffing the air vents with plugs and taping over gaps with slick and sturdy “race tape.”

After nearly 150 races, it’s not the heap of trophies we love, it’s the experience and the memories that let us relive the thrills over and over.

We began a column in our local paper almost 14 years ago. We write about aviation, but we write for the non-flying public. We aim to put a face to a world that’s unfamiliar to many, with engaging stories about people, places, and adventures. We’ve met the most amazing people in our flying lives.

As we approached the ten-year anniversary of our column, we thought it would be fun to select our favorite stories from the first decade and put them in a book. We narrowed it down to 100 stories, but it took two volumes to contain them all. In our two-volume set, “Ely Air Lines: Select Stories from 10 Years of a Weekly Column,” we offer short pieces about the world of aviation, told in entertaining, informative, and touching ways.

Our stories are for everyone, not just aviators. We hope you’ll check out our books and let us know what you think by dropping us a line and leaving a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or your favorite site.

Copyright Michael Ely & Linda Street-Ely

Ely Air Lines: Select Stories from 10 Years of a Weekly Column

Volumes 1 and 2

 Delightful stories of flying adventures from around the globe. Adventurous and heartwarming. Written by pilots.

Ely Air Lines is a captivating 2-volume set of 100 short stories that inspire and educate, written by pilots Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely. Step aboard to enjoy a collection of stories that explore the vast realm of the flyer’s world.

Buckle up and fly with Mike and Linda to discover amazing people, interesting places, and the conquest of flight.

You can find these books here:



Ely Air Lines Volume 1

Ely Air Lines Volume 2

And you can find Michael and Linda online here:


Website: Paper Airplane Publishing

Facebook: Paper Airplane Publishing

Instagram: Paper Airplane Publishing

Twitter: Paper Airplane Publishing

Linda’s Amazon Author page

Mike’s Amazon Author page

Linda’s Goodreads Author page

Mike’s Goodreads Author page

Linda’s Bookbub Author page

Mike’s Bookbub Author Page


Thanks for joining us today and learning about airplane racing. If you have a question for Linda please leave it in the comments!