Women Start Lee County's Economic Engines
June 28, 2010
  • Share
  • By Laura Ruane

    More than 100 women pilots, including four Lee County residents, are scheduled to depart Fort MyersPage Field General Aviation Airport this morning on an approximately 2,000-mile race that promises business to struggling communities, and promotes aviation’s sisterhood.

    The 34th annual Air Race Classic will take the aviators in 125- to 600-horsepower fixed-wing aircraft over 11 states and to nine cities in the central and eastern United States, ending Friday in Frederick, Md., according to Terry Carbonell, licensed private pilot and secretary for Air Race Classic Inc., the Florida-based nonprofit sponsor.

    Teams of two paid $455 to participate, with three-member teams paying $605. Teams used a team member’s plane, borrowed or rented. Organizations provided additional financial backing. Locally, the county Tourist Development Council pledged up to $26,260 in bed tax dollars to promote the race, Page Field and the region; at Bell Tower Shops south of Fort Myers, women’s apparel retailer Chico’s held a reception, and Crowne Plaza and neighboring Homewood Suites by Hilton reduced room rates for race pilots. Paragon Flight Training threw a barbecue for the pilots Saturday night.

    “The money this area is getting back in hotel room nights and fuel sales are well worth it,” said Victoria Moreland. She’s spokeswoman for Lee County Port Authority, which chipped in $10,000, plus in-house advertising, marketing and design services.

    Altogether, the race will mean about 300 hotel room nights and estimated direct spending topping $142,000. That’s just the start, Carbonell said:

    “A lot of these racers will go home and say ‘I had the best time in Fort Myers.’ People are going to come back.”

    China native and Spring Hill resident Laura Ying Gao, 30, said she’s “nervous, but very excited” about joining Carbonell of Alva and Ellen Herr of Fort Myers on “Team Wild Mama.”

    When she came to this country two years ago, ” I didn’t know how to drive, much less fly an airplane,” said Ying, who earned her private pilot license in April.

    Retired military and commercial airline pilot Jessica Stearns of Bonita Springs and mental health and career counselor Cheryl Lynn Dratler of Fort Myers comprise Lee County‘s second team in the all-women race. They’re “Team Brazen Baron,” flying a Beechcraft Baron, the only twin-engine aircraft in the contest this year.

    Race organizers claim as their roots the pioneering 1929 National Women’s Air Derby from Santa Monica, Calif., to Cleveland. Since then, several all-women race programs were created over the years, but eventually ended. The 40-year-old Palms to Pines race from Santa Monica, Calif., to Bend, Ore., is taking a year’s break following the death of founder Claire Walters in January.

    Pilots in this week’s Air Race Classic have four days – flying only in daylight under visual flight rules – to reach Maryland. Each plane is assigned a handicap speed, which the teams of two and three women will try to beat with smart piloting.

    Source: THE NEWS PRESS
    Date: 2010-06-22