By Kresse Armour
Margaret Viola’s business card gives an address in Mojave, CA, USA, EARTH. It’s because she clocks in at The Spaceship Company (TSC). It’s the aerospace facility at the Mojave Air & Space Port where Sir Richard Branson’s White Knight spacecraft is housed in Virgin Galactic’s hangar. Viola, who holds a degree in physics, is an Executive Project Specialist for TSC. She’s also a pilot, both fixed-wing and glider, who is dedicated to mentoring students and promoting STEM scholarships for women.
In June of this year she’ll serve as co-pilot as she teams up with commercial pilot and seasoned racer, Anne Marie Radel, as the pair takes on the 2015 annual Air Race Classic. The four-day event will send racers on a sky-high course that starts in Fredricksburg, Virginia, zig-zags over 10 states, and ends in Fairhope, Alabama.
They’ll be racing in Radel’s sleek Gumman Tiger. A longtime pilot, Radel grew up in a ‘flight friendly’ family. Her brothers are also pilots. Her father was an oilman, who piloted a Mooney Mite all around West Texas. “It was faster than driving,” Radel said. “He made all of us love flying. I thought it was all magic. You’d pick a field to land in and shoo away the cows.”
Radel, who holds an Airline Transport Pilot rating (single and multi-engine), as well as a Commercial seaplane rating, also flies traffic watch over the Los Angeles basin as a relief pilot for AM Station KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO.
And she is passionate about racing. Her logbook tells of air races from all around the country, one even taking her from Oklahoma City to St. John, New Brunswick, Canada, a distance of 2,400 miles.
Radel is also an ASCAP songwriter with her own publishing company, Flaunch Music Co. (www.flaunchmusic.com). Her song ‘See Her Fly’ is played at the start and terminus of the Air Race Classic every year.
She was inspired to write it, she said, “By all the women racers I’ve met along the way.”
The Air Race Classic has drawn 55 teams this year, all of which will be looking to set new speed records. The ARC, which began in 1929 as the first “Women’s Air Derby,” started with 20 female pilots who tore through the sky from Santa Monica, California, to Cleveland, Ohio, landing at the site of the Cleveland National Air Race, which was already underway. Though women had been barred from this male-only event, it didn’t deter the 20 pilots from coming to the party. The Women’s Air Derby would earn its nickname, “The Powder Puff Derby,” from humorist Will Rogers, who was attending the National Air Race with good friend and pilot, Wiley Post.
In the weeks following that first Air Derby, the idea for a national women’s pilot organization took off. Letters were sent to all 117 female pilots in the United States, inviting them to Curtis Field, Valley Stream, Long Island, New York, on Nov. 2, 1929. They would have dinner and talk about the future of women in aviation. Ninety-nine of them responded. Among them was Amelia Earhart, who would serve as the first president of an organization that would come to be known as the ‘The Ninety-Nines, Inc.’ It is now more than 6,000 members strong, with chapters in more than 35 countries.
Radel is current president of the San Fernando Valley Chapter of the Ninety-Nines, and she and Viola will be flying the ARC for a tremendous cause –– broadening hopes and horizons for women. As ARC Team #24, they’re raising funds for Virgin Galactic’s STEM scholarship program, which benefits women seeking careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
Viola’s hometown is Oshkosh, Wisconsin, site of the world famous annual air show. And while all kids have their various interests, for Viola it was jet engines and space ships. As soon as she was old enough to get a work permit, her first job at Oshkosh was folding T-shirts.
“The pivotal moment came,” as Viola describes it, “when I saw Spaceship One.” Richard Branson’s White Knight. It was love at first sight. “The idea of Spaceship One landing in Wisconsin –– the excitement, the prestige, the glamour, the greatness of it,” she said, “was combination of everything I loved in life.”
As the aerospace industry continued to rocket forward, she set her sights and hung in. And noting the many industry changes since that long ago day in Oshkosh, she said, “The job I have now didn’t exist.”
Radel and Viola happened to meet one year in Oshkosh –– two high-energy, accomplished women who both wanted to inspire and foster opportunities for others –– and Team Tigress was born. They’re on a mission this year to make a difference in the futures of young women, by making their racing effort a fundraiser. After racing expenses, all proceeds will go to Galactic Unite.
“Galactic Unite aims to support students who want to advance their education in STEM fields,” Viola said. “All scholarships offered through Galactic Unite come with the option for mentorship within the team at Virgin Galactic/TSC, so not only do students find financial support for their goals, they find a bridge of mentorship that can support them as they look further ahead to their careers. There are no overhead costs to this program, so all donations are allocated directly to its scholarships.”
Readers: you’re encouraged to ‘go along’ on this ride. There are two ways to track progress and donate to ARC Team #24. Go to:
Or, visit gofundme.com/sixeasy
For more information about the Air Race Classic, visit the website:
For more information about the Ninety-Nines: sfv99s.org.