July 8, 2023
Local pilot and flight instructor, Jeanné Willerth, placed 9th in the Air Race Classic, the oldest and longest air race of its kind. Women pilots from the United States, Venezuela, Spain and Israel competed in the race. Also placing in the top ten winning spots were four university teams and a team of Israeli Air Force pilots. The first-place team represented Kent State University.
Jeanné stated “The race was fantastic. I honored my mother, who taught me to fly and took me as her co-pilot on my first international air race 50 years ago. The circle of life is evident. Everywhere we went, we were mentoring young women and girls. The racers. The spectators. Parents and grandparents brought girls. They waited as we landed for autographs.”
This year, Jeanné teamed with Emmy Dillon, a Captain for Paragon Airways, a charter company based out of California. The two met through the 99s, the International Organization of Women Pilots. Emmy had worked for Garmin in the Kansas City area as a Human Factors Engineer before becoming a professional pilot.
The team, Classic 22, “SHEnanigans”, raced Jeanné’s Cessna 182. Over a 10-day period, Jeanné flew around 4200 miles total and was in the cockpit over 36 hours.
Both Jeanné and Emmy are single and multi-engine rated pilots and flight instructors. They are both Airline Transport rated pilots.
The 2023 cross country race covered 23* of latitude and 2,684 miles beginning in Grand Forks, North Dakota, crossing much of the Midwest and Southeastern US and ending in Homestead (Miami), Florida.
Stormy days, heat, and lots of headwinds were challenges facing the racers this year as they had to finish the race in four days. For safety reasons, teams weren’t allowed to fly at night and had to fly in visual conditions.
Sponsors of the “SHEnanigans” team include Central Air Southwest and Flex Air. Central Air Southwest is the premier Kansas City 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. Jeanné is a flight instructor for Flex Air at Johnson County Executive Airport. Also sponsoring the team was WILDBLUE Aircraft Sales of Kansas City.
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.
ABOUT THE AIR RACE CLASSIC
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 airraceclassic.org.