Ninety Nines take to the air to play poker across five airports

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:48

    WEST MILFORD-It was a clear, perfect day, and Christina Santiago touched down for a perfect landing. After smoothly taxiing her Cessna down the 2,700-foot runway at Greenwood Lake Airport, Santiago killed the engine and rolled up to the right wingtip of "Connie," the big old Lockheed Constellation airliner that's been an airport landmark since 1977. She then climbed out of her gleaming white plane, strolled over to a table parked under Connie's tail, and drew from a deck of playing cards. Santiago was one of more than 60 pilots who landed and took off from the West Milford strip in a five-airport "poker run" held last Saturday. The pilots crisscrossed local skies all day long, performing the card ritual here and at Blairstown Airport, Sullivan County International in Monticello, Orange County Airport in Montgomery, and Sky Acres Airport in Millbrook, New York. The flyers landing at Greenwood Lake all wore smiles as they walked up to the check-in table n not only were they having fun, but it was all for a good cause. The poker run was staged by the North Jersey Chapter of The Ninety Nines, with proceeds to benefit the Chapter's aviation scholarships, and safety and educational programs. Santiago, of Dover, is a fledgling member of The Ninety Nines n following in the footsteps of legend Amelia Earhart. The organization originally came into being at Curtiss Field on Long Island in 1929, and Earhart was elected its first president. The Ninety Nines (whose name refers to the number of charter members) is an international, non-profit, charitable organization of more than 5,500 licensed women pilots from 35 countries. Their mission is to promote world fellowship through flight, provide networking and scholarship opportunities for women and aviation education in the community, and preserve the unique history of women in aviation. The Ninety Nines love to fly, and they know a truth n there really is something romantic about aviation. Under the blue sky at the hilltop airport, preparing to take off again, Christina Santiago was reminded of her first time in the pilot's seat. A few years ago, the former Texan was a passenger with a friend flying over the Gulf of Mexico. "My friend just handed off the controls to me, and it was like love at first sight," she recalled while looking up at Connie, whose own romantic tale began when it took to the air as Air France's first Constellation, delivered in 1946. And after Air France? Connie entered the harem of "The Aviator" himself when it was sold to Howard Hughes' company four years later.