Classic 22 “SHEnanigans” Pilot – Jeanné Willerth, left, Co-pilot Emmy Dillon, right

June 10, 2023

Jeanné Willerth, a well-known local flight instructor, will take to the skies from June 20 to June 23, 2023, in the 46th Air Race Classic (ARC), the oldest airplane race of its kind in the United States. She will be one of more than 100 women pilots from across the country and around the world in this year’s race, which begins in Grand Forks, North Dakota and ends in Homestead (Miami), Florida.

The 2023 race is Willerth’s ninth national or international air race. This year she is celebrating the 50th anniversary of her first international air race. In 1973, Willerth raced as her mother’s co-pilot. Her mother, Jeanne Given, a Powder Puff Derby air racer, was her flight instructor and mentor when she was young.

This year, Willerth is teaming with Emmy Dillon, a Captain for Paragon Airways, a charter company based out of the John Wayne Airport in Costa Mesa, CA.

Dillon is back for her fourth Air Race Classic. Dillon won the Air Race Classic in 2016, racing for Embry Riddle University.

Both Willerth and Dillon are single and multi-engine rated pilots and flight instructors. They are both Airline Transport rated pilots.

The team, Classic 22 “SHEnanigans”, will be racing Willerth’s Cessna 182 across the 2,684-mile route. With the race starting in North Dakota and ending near Miami, FL, Willerth will fly around 4000 miles total.

All race planes will have tracking devices and can be followed on the internet during the race. To follow the race real time, go to the website:

Andrew Towner, Central Air Southwest presents Jeanné Willerth with a check toward race expenses

Sponsors of the “SHEnanigans” team include Central Air Southwest and Flex Air. Central Air Southwest is the premier Mid-Western-based air carrier specializing in cargo since 1974. Flex Air is a flight school with bases in Kansas and California specializing in training for veterans, minorities, and anyone aspiring to a career in aviation. Willerth is a flight instructor for Flex Air at Johnson County Executive Airport. Also sponsoring the team is WILDBLUE Aircraft Sales of Kansas City.

This historic contest traces its roots to the 1929 Women’s Air Derby, aka the Powder Puff Derby, in which Amelia Earhart and 19 other daring female pilots raced from Santa Monica, CA, to Cleveland, OH. That competition marked the beginning of women’s air racing in the United States. Today, the ARC is the epicenter of women’s air racing, the ultimate test of piloting skill and aviation decision-making for female pilots of all ages and from all walks of life.

The race will begin at 8 am on June 20 at Grand Forks International Airport (Grand Forks, ND), with teams taking off one right after another, 30 seconds apart. From there, the field will spread out as faster planes move to the head of the pack. As they progress along the race route – Mankato, MN; Ottumwa, IA; Hastings, NE; Herington, KS; Ponca City, OK; Sulphur Springs, TX; Jonesboro, AR; Pell City, AL; Cross City, FL – teams will execute a high-speed flyby over a timing line as they race against the clock. Faster planes may cover the course in only two days; slower teams may not arrive at the Terminus, Miami-Homestead General Aviation Airport (Homestead, FL) until moments before the arrival deadline at 5pm on June 23.

Because each plane receives a unique handicap, teams are racing against their own best time, not against one another. This creates a level playing field, so slower planes can compete against faster aircraft on an equal basis. Teams strategize to play the elements, holding out for better weather or seeking more favorable winds, to beat their handicap by the greatest margin. Official standings aren’t determined until after the last team has crossed the finish line – the last arrival at the Terminus may, in fact, be the winner.

The ARC draws competitors of all ages, from teenagers to veteran pilots in their 90s, and from all walks of life, from college students to professional airline pilots to military veterans to teachers, writers, doctors, and businesswomen. For some teams, the ARC is a family affair, with multiple generations competing together every year. For others, the ARC presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience parts of the country far from home. For all, it is a chance to engage in fierce competition while sharing their love of flying – especially with young people – expanding their knowledge and skill as pilots, and encouraging the next generation of brave, fearless women to take to the air.

Air Race Classic Inc. is an all-volunteer, nonprofit 501©3 organization with a mission of encouraging and education current and future female pilots, increasing public awareness of general aviation, demonstrating women’s roles in aviation, and preserving and promoting the tradition of pioneering women in aviation. For more information, go to Follow Air Race Classic on Facebook, Instagram @airraceclassicinc, and LinkedIn.