LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. — All eyes will be on the skies over Lee's Summit, Missouri, next week as an airplane race for women pilots stops in the city for a checkpoint on its way to Canada.
The Air Race Classic begins Monday in Jackson, Tennessee. Racers should start arriving in Lee’s Summit the afternoon and evening of Tuesday, June 18. But most of the activity at the municipal airport on Northeast Douglas Street will take place Wednesday, June 19.
“I love the excitement of being in the air, being able to get in a plane and go somewhere,” said Jeanné Willerth. “The sky is just limitless on where you can go.”
Willerth is the only pilot from Missouri participating in this year’s Air Race Classic. Her mother taught her to fly in the 1970s and she’s spent time on board an airplane ever since.
WIllerth currently teaches flying lessons. She said most of her students are men. Statistics from the Federal Aviation Administration show about 93 percent of American pilots are men. The Air Race Classic hopes to encourage woman to try flying.
“When I learned to fly, women were not allowed to fly in the airlines or in the military. Otherwise, I would have been in the military right away. Now for women, the doors are open,” said Willerth, who will be flying with a partner under the team name Mighty Mavericks during next week's race.
More than 100 pilots in more than 50 airplanes will race roughly 2,500 miles over four days during the Air Race Classic. Each contestant must pass checkpoints along the way. Judges place a handicap on each plane so pilots race against their own time, not necessarily against one another.
Lee’s Summit’s positioning in the course means many pilots will spend the night, buy fuel and spend money in the city.
“It's an opportunity for family member and citizens to come out and see airplanes of all sorts of different types,” said Airport Manager John Ohrazda. “Being all women racers, they're going to range from college teams to school teachers to accountants to airline pilots, former military pilots. It's going to be exciting to see some of these racers coming through here.”
The airport is hosting an open house Saturday, June 22 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. for the public.