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Friday, November 4,2016

Chiwami Takagi, Female Air Race Pilot

By Teresa Aquila  


Air Racing is a unique and dangerous sport with only one place in the United States that hosts the event, Reno, Nevada. Every year in September the Reno/Stead Airport transforms into a small city of pilots, crews, vendors and the coolest and fastest of airplanes you could ever see.

This year I took to the skies in search of female pilots at the Reno Air Races. What I found was an amazing woman who stands tall at 5’1”, 110 lbs, with a smile that lights up the sky; her name: Chiwami Takagi. Her dreams to fly started at the age of three, so much so that in her dreams, her arms were her wings and there wasn’t any place she couldn´t travel to.

Her challenges as she grew older were somewhat discouraging, but she never lost her passion to fly, even though she had to settle for a traditional life for a short time, until she could save up enough money to pay for flight school. Her break came when she decided to become an exchange student in New Zealand, where her host family’s father just happened to be the manager of a helicopter company.

In New Zealand, they use helicopters to herd sheep, so Chiwami learned to fly. This opportunity fueled her desire to want more in flying. After a year in New Zealand, she returned home. It took Chiwami a year to convince her father that she was serious about flying: Every night at dinner was her father’s dreaded time of the day, because he knew what the conversation would be with his beloved daughter: Flying!

Her parents finally caved, and off Chiwami traveled to the United States, passion as high as the sky and ready to learn to fly. She landed in Oakland, California where she obtained her pilots license and learned English. You see, Chiwami Takagi was from Japan . Undertaking both flying and English kept her quite busy but focused. You would think that once she obtained her pilots license, that would have satisfied her dreams, but no, she decided to take it one step further, becoming an instructor. It took her 11 months, graduating at the top of her class.

Chiwami was hired to instruct for a company in Oakland, California, and during that time she met her husband, who is also a pilot. On one of their dates, he took her to Reno, NV for the Air Races, another turning point for Chiwami. Once she feasted her eyes on racing, she told her then boyfriend, I want to do that. As you can see from her track record, nothing stops Chiwami, and so a year later, she was flying at the Reno Air Races in the Sport Class, and her first year, she took fourth in the Bronze race.

Her plane, Piglet, proudly displays a plastic pig on the dash as her mascot, flying 50 feet off the ground on a circle track going 279 MPH hoping to place in the race. This year’s race put Chiwami’s skills to the test. It was Saturday of the race, the pace plane pilot shouted you have a race. Chiwami throttled up, passing some of her competitors, when all of a sudden, her plane’s engine stalls. She is 50 ft. off the ground, 279 MPH, her parachute was not an option, pulls the plane up in hopes of not colliding with the other racers, radios a mayday, she sees the runway in the distance, and navigates the plane in that direction. Then all of a sudden, smoke in the cockpit, then flames in the cockpit, she radios her condition. As an instructor, you always sit in the right seat, which is where she sat, and that saved her, because the flames where in the left side of the plane, She landed, bailed out and the plane became engulfed in flames.

Chiwami escaped without a scratch or a burn, and if you are wondering about Piglet, he too managed to survive, but was a little butt singed. The plane was a complete loss. As for Chiwami, as she explained to me, she will be back to race next year as soon as she can find another plane. Happy Motoring!


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