Jeanné Willerth, left and Emmy Dillon, right, showing off their 9th place medals from 2023

June 15, 2024

By Jeanné Willerth

Raintree Lake resident, Jeanné Willerth, a well-known local flight instructor, will take to the skies in her Cessna 182 this week to head to Carbondale, IL for the start of the Air Race Classic (ARC). The competition itself is June 18 to June 21, 2024, and is the oldest airplane race of its kind. She will be one of more than 100 women pilots from across the country and around the world in this year’s 2600-mile race, which begins in Illinois and ends in Loveland, CO.

2024 Air Race Classic Route

The 2024 race is Willerth’s 10th national or international air race and her sixth Air Race Classic. Her mother, Jeanne Given, a Powder Puff Derby air racer, was her flight instructor and mentor when she was young. Jeanné now has more than 4,000 hours of flight experience. She is married to Lee’s Summit attorney, Joe Willerth, and has three adult children.

This year, Jeanné is again teaming with co-pilot Emmy Dillon, a Boeing 777 pilot for a major international cargo carrier. She is based in California. Emmy is back for her 5th Air Race Classic. Jeanné and Emmy are both members of the 99s, the International Organization of Women Pilots. They met several years ago when Emmy was an engineer at Garmin International in Olathe, KS.

Last year these ladies placed 9th overall in the race. Both are single and multi-engine rated pilots and flight instructors. They are both Airline Transport rated pilots.

Their team, “SHEnanigans,” will be racing Jeanné’s Cessna 182 across the 2,600-mile route. Jeanné will fly around 3,500 miles total.

The racers will take off 30 seconds apart in numerical order starting at 8 am on June 18 at Carbondale, IL. They will have to will execute a high-speed flyby over a timing line at each of the 9 checkpoints in La Porte, IN, Cadillac, MI, Newark, OH, Monee, IL, Owatonna, MN, Moberly, MO, Bartlesville, OK, Doge City, KS and Loveland, CO. Pilots can stop at the checkpoints to refuel, eat, spend the night, and check the weather. All flying is during daylight hours and must be done in visual conditions. They must complete the route by 5 PM Mountain Time Friday, June 21st. There will be 23 university or college teams among the 49 race entries.

All race planes will have tracking devices and can be followed on the internet during the race. To follow Classic 19, “SHEnanigans” in the race real time, go to the website.

Sponsors of the “SHEnanigans” team include 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.

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.