Marilyn Dash: From rookie flyer to the big leagues

Meet one of the Reno Air Races’ female pilots and her plane

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The roar of the propellers. The heart-pumping adrenaline when rounding the next pylon. The nervous butterflies while gliding through a series of barrel roles. When flying in the National Championship Air Races and Air Show, pilots thrive on perfecting these technical feats. But what is the most unnerving for biplane racer Marilyn Dash? Sticking the landing.

The upcoming races mark Dash’s 14th year as a participant, although piloting came out of the blue. Her passion for planes began when she discovered the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, California on her commute between client meetings as a Sales and Marketing Consultant. She pulled over, parked on the side of the road and had a life-changing epiphany.

“That would be a good use of my spare time,” Dash remembers thinking. “I wanted to do some volunteering, and it was a really great way for me to go. I got over involved, something very common for me. I connected with the museum’s founder, and he kept pushing me to become a pilot.

“It just flew by from there.”

Machining priorities

As she was learning to fly she was also learning how to wrench on the plane. Dash was surprised by her lack of mechanical knowledge. “It’s something they don’t often teach girls. I never built an engine or worked on the car with my dad. Those are skills women need to be better pilots,” she said.

Along her road to aviation, she was instructed by an air racer who introduced her to the sport. Shortly after, she found herself at an intense pilot-racing seminar held each year to train rookies for the big league.

“The last time I flew and landed the instructors came over to tell me I had passed. I had been accepted by the brethren. It was an amazing feeling and is probably why I’m so nice to the newcomers every year. I remember the feeling so vividly.”

Racing in Reno

The National Championship Air Races and Air Show is one of her favorite events, because the crowds are huge and there is always something going on in the air. The United States Navy’s Blue Angels will headline the event with their awe-inspiring performances.

This year, you’ll find Dash swooping around in her Pitts Special — a bright red 200-horse-power, 700-pound single-seat biplane named Ruby.

“She’s a little hot rod,” said Dash.

She’s eager to get the races started where she can zip around in her aerobatic airplane. She’ll climb into the sky and glide through the loops and rolls. That’s easy.

“At the end of the race, as my adrenaline is going crazy, I’ll have to land gracefully in front of 100,000 people. That is the most difficult part. And I cannot wait for it!”

The Reno Air Racing Association will present the 2016 National Championship Air Races and Air Show held September 14–18, 2016 at the Reno-Stead Airport. For a complete schedule and more information visit airrace.org.

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