For Niagara-on-the-Lake resident Dewi Saraswati (Asti) Livingston, participating in the 2019 Air Race Classic with flying partner Susan Begg of Ottawa was no big deal — just a “girls’ road trip with less traffic.”
That may be a bit of an understatement. The Air Race Classic featured almost 50 female flying teams, covering about 4,000 kilometres. The two “Canuck Flyers,” the only Canadian team in the Classic, flew Begg’s Mooney 201 M20J from Jackson, Tennessee, through Georgia, Mississippi, Arizona, Montana, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, before crossing the border and on to Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay and Brantford. They finished the race by touching down at the Niagara Central Dorothy Rungeling Airport in Welland Thursday evening.
The Canuck Flyers placed 32nd amongst the 48 teams who entered, four of whom failed to complete the full route.
The race was won by the Dakota FlyGirls, out of North Carolina. The result wasn’t what Livingston and Begg were hoping for, but it was certainly more than respectable for a first-time attempt.
Livingston has been flying for about 15 years. She’s not new to such long flights, having completed a cross country trip from Toronto, to the Grand Canyon, L.A., Catalina Island and back to Chicago. She and Begg met through an international organization of female aviators called the Ninety-Nines. Last year, the pair entered a rally that wound up in P.E.I. That went so well Begg asked Livingston to join her as her co-pilot for this first Air Race Classic for both women.
Begg put her full trust in Livingston. Asti was responsible for all the radio and navigation work. Livingston says, “we just seemed to know what the other person was thinking, so we became one with the aircraft.”
Participating in an air race required the women to fly their aircraft at its maximum power continuously, necessitating precision planning for the use of fuel and frequent stops for resources.
Livingston says she was always in trouble as a child, with her head looking toward the clouds. She took up flying in Virginia, after she had the first of her four children, and she’s never looked back. Interestingly, she found out only five years ago that her father, an engineer, had actually flown while the family was living in the South Pacific.
Flying isn’t her only adventurous pursuit. She was born in the Phillipines, and spent much of her early life living in the jungles of Borneo. Livingston makes a living now as an actress and singer, but she’s also a divemaster, fencer, producer, director, underwater photographer and writer. She’s currently working on a thriller novel, two short films and a full-length feature. All while raising four children.
She still works mainly out of Toronto, and continues to have a home there. But she fell in love with a house in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and moved here just over a year ago. Livingston also fell in love with the area. She says “there’s so much history in the town, it’s so peaceful, and the people are just lovely.” Of course, conveniently for her, it’s very close to an airport.
The atmosphere between the competitors once they had all arrived at the Dorothy Rungeling Airport was convivial. Many of the racers, like Livingston and Begg, were members of the Ninety-Nines, an organization of licensed women pilots from 44 countries, with thousands of members throughout the world. Begun in 1929, its first president was Amelia Earhart. Virtually all women of achievement in aviation have been or are currently members of the Ninety-Nines.
The Welland Airport is named for a local aviation pioneer and long-time Ninety-Nines member, Dorothy Rungeling, who passed away in 2018 at the age of 106. The choice of Welland as the terminus of this 43rd running of the Air Race Classic was timely. The airport commission unveiled a new plaque Saturday in honour of the woman who, among many other accomplishments, was also the Town of Pelham’s first female councillor.
Livingston had the chance to meet Dorothy Rungeling near her final days.
“She was such a lovely lady,” she says. “Such a pleasure to talk to. We don’t realize how fortunate we are to be in the company of women like that. They set the bar so high. We take it for granted now, but we wouldn’t be flying if wasn’t for women like Dorothy.”
Livingston says aviation is getting a kick-start at the moment. Yes, she would love to see more female pilots, but she encourages anyone interested in the field to find out more.
“There is a shortage of pilots. Women and men, all across the board, anyone interested in aviation should really consider this as an option.”
Begg adds there are opportunities in the aviation field, such as robotics, drone design and sciences, that don’t require a pilot’s licence, as well.
With one Air Race Classic now under their belts, the Canuck Flyers have set their instruments on another, more lofty goal.
According to Livingston, the plan is to take on a trans-Atlantic crossing within the next two years. “Taking a single-engine aircraft across the Atlantic involves a lot of planning and legal wrangling,” she says. And then there is the cost of the fuel, which will, of course, be significant.
But it’s clear that for Livingston and her flying partner, nothing will stand in their way.