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SIU-C Sends Three Teams to the Air Race Classic

The six competitors include (from left): Vernecelyn Allen, Abby Lee, Rachel Piacentini and Gabrielle Escudero. Not pictured are competitors Meadow Boden and Sophie Ottoson.

Three teams from SIU-Carbondale will compete in the 2021 Air Race Classic, the nation’s only air race for women.

Each of the teams from SIU-C will feature an instructor and a student.

Abby Lee is a 2020 graduate of the aviation program and a certified flight instructor. She'll be the co-pilot on the entry named the Saluki Sky Surfers.

She says in the past teams would fly 2,400 statute miles with several timing points.

But, due to the pandemic, this year's event will actually be an Air Derby, which means tests on flight planning. Each team will choose their own five-leg route.

"If we meet the specific time that we planned, for the route that we're doing, whoever gets the closest to the time that they planned wins the race."

Teams must complete their one-day route by June 26. Lee's team plans to go on Monday, weather permitting. The other two SIU-C teams are scheduled for their flights Friday and Saturday.

The award winners will be announced virtually on June 27.

As three separate Saluki aviation teams prepare to test their skills against more than 80 others in the Air Race Classic, Lee says the SIU-Carbondale aviation program is seeing a jump in the number of women interested in the industry.

"When I came into the flight program my freshman year, since I did my flight training here, there were maybe nine of us girls in the program. This year we actually have it projected where over 15% of our incoming class is women. So, that's almost 60 students compared to the nine or ten of us that were there my year."

Lee credits the increase to the Air Race Classic and aviation camps for introducing females to career opportunities in the industry.

She says currently only three to four percent of all commercial pilots are women. Lee hopes to join the exclusive group in the future.