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Cary woman competes in 2,700-mile, all-women air race to highlight female pilots

Posted July 9

Jan Squillace waits in Prescott, Arizona for the start of the 40th flying of the Air Race Classic. Photo courtesy of Jan Squillace
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— As a kid, flying an airplane across the country, topping speeds of 180 mph, wasn't something Jan Squillace thought she would be able to do.

Squillace, who lives in Cary, didn't start flying until she was in her 50s, she said, because flying wasn't something girls were encouraged to do. But things are different today: Colleges around the country have aviation programs, and plenty of women are signing up.

Even with the uptick in female pilots, though, Squillace said just 6 percent of all aviators in the country are women. She's hoping that percentage will rise, and her most recent flight is helping that cause.

Squillace recently touched down from a 2,700-mile flight across the United States called the Air Race Classic. She and her co-pilot made up one of the 55 teams that flew from Prescott, Arizona to Champaign, Illinois to Daytona Beach, Florida, with seven other cities in between over four days this June.

Winners of the Air Race Classic are awarded small cash prizes, but it's the field of competitors that makes the race stand out: All of the pilots are women. Squillace said the racers are cooperative and helpful in the event of a breakdown, but they're flying to win.

"We're competitive," Squillace said. "We know to to do what we need to do to win."

The race is a grueling test of flying knowledge and skills, such as navigating the 14,000-foot mountains of Arizona or dodging stormy weather. But Squillace said it doesn't hurt to have a little something extra.

"What it boils down to is skill—and a little bit of luck," Squillace said.

Squillace and her co-pilot finished 32 out of the 55 teams, but 11 teams didn't finish, either because of mechanical breakdowns or not meeting the four-day time limit.

This year was the 40th flying of the annual race. Race organizers planned the route to fly near universities that had aviation programs. Many students in the programs met the pilots at the stops and provided support for them.

"You feel like a rock star after a while," Squillace said, laughing.


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