Gardens resident competing in all-women cross country airplane race

Updated June 17, 2016

Anita Mixon knows adventure, whether it’s soaring through the skies in her small plane or firing the field cannon she uses as a reenactor of battles between pirates and the British.

The Palm Beach Gardens resident will chart a 2,716-mile journey from Prescott, Ariz. to Daytona Beach starting Tuesday when she takes off in the women-only Air Race Classic, the oldest airplane race of its kind.

She and her race partner, Jan Squillace, of Cary, N.C., will compete against 57 other teams to finish the race in their best time in Squillace’s Diamond DA40.

“The whole race is very friendly, but also very competitive,” Mixon said from her home wearing a blue polo shirt with the race’s logo on it. “We stress safety.”

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Racers have until 5 p.m. June 24 to land at Daytona Beach International Airport. At eight stops between the start and finish, the teams will perform high-speed flybys over a timing line.

The last plane to arrive at Daytona could actually be the winner, because the teams are racing against their best time based on each plane’s handicap.

Mixon said it’s humbling to participate in a race that has its roots in the 1929 Women’s Air Derby, “the Powder Puff Derby,” in which Amelia Earhart and a group of other female pilots flew from Santa Monica, Calif., to Cleveland, Ohio.

Racers are doctors, lawyers, commercial airline pilots and college students, said Mixon, an information systems control and compliance auditor at SBA Communications in Boca Raton.

Squillace, a retired software manager, appreciates the camaraderie.

“It’s nice to have a bunch of girlfriends that don’t think you’re crazy,” she said.

In addition to flying, Mixon has also done historical reenactments between the British — “Bloody Lobsters” — and pirates along the coast.

She owns her own field cannon, is fluent in “pirate speak” and has a Congo African grey parrot named Joey. The biggest clash is when 3oo people get together at Fort Zachary Taylor in Key West and entertain on a field.

Mixon didn’t set out to be a pilot. It all started when, in the early 1990s, her friend’s husband bought a plane.

“The next thing you know, we’re flying all over the Bahamas,” Mixon said.

She took flight lessons and ended up soloing with just 7.8 hours under her wing, she said. Her instructor had her hold the plane while he supposedly ran inside the flight school office to get something.

Then she heard his voice on the radio telling her to practice takeoffs and landings.

“It’s the most amazing feeling in the world. You’re terrified and exhilarated, and you’re walking on air,” Mixon said.