LEES SUMMIT, Mo. --Hundreds of female pilots are taking to the skies over Lee’s Summit this week as part of a very special air race, honoring the world’s most famous female aviator, Kansas’ own Amelia Earhart.
Fifty-one teams of female pilots will take part in the 90th anniversary of women’s air racing in the 43 annual air race classic. The air race classic dates back to 1977 and is designed to honor the legacy of Amelia Earhart and 19 other women pilots who flew from California to Ohio.
The race covers about 2,500 miles over a span of four days and this year Lee's Summit native Jeanné Willerth is taking to the skies.
"This will be my 7th national or international air race that I've flown more than 2000 miles," she said.
On Tuesday morning, June 18th, the pilots will take off from Jackson, Tennessee and make a stop at the Lee’s Summit airport the next day.
But the pilots will cover much more territory. They’ll make stops in seven states and finish the race in Canada. The race is judged on speed and the winner will be the team with the shortest flying time.
For an experienced pilot like Willert, it’s a chance to mentor young women.
"It's going to be fantastic to do a race like this and it's a great accomplishment. We will be racing against amazing women. There are 17 teams from colleges that will be competing.”
The air race classic is considered the epicenter of women's air racing. The teams are made up of 2 female pilots and the planes can only fly in daylight, forcing pilots to be strategic about exactly when to fly. The pilots range in age from 21 to 90 years old.
"This race also allows each team to take a third person, if they’re at least a student pilot in order to mentor them, because we need to bring up the next generation of pilots," she said. "There’s a significant pilot shortage right now and there’s not a lot of women pilots. Women pilots are still about 6% of the pilot population, so this is an excellent opportunity for us more experienced pilots to mentor the younger pilots."