When we heard a few months ago about the Women’s Air Race Classic, a cross-country flight that is only for female pilots, we were intrigued.
Editor Hope Stephan suggested this might be something offbeat for me to write about, since it technically does relate to transportation. As the race got closer, and I learned more about pilot Susan Adams, I realized this is a story about business risk-taking and success.
I talked to Susan this week as she made her way to California and found her fascinating and very accomplished. Here is an account of the race and our conversation, in story form:
At 47, Susan Adams had already achieved success on a level above most people.
She spent more than 15 years as a health care executive before starting Adams-Naylor Associates, a management consulting firm. Adams, of York, is also a faculty member at Elizabethtown College.
But as she neared 50, Adams sought a new challenge to tackle: Flying airplanes, something she had always wanted to do. After taking eight months to earn her pilot’s license in April 2011, Adams decided to marry her new hobby with her keen business sense.
“I fell in love with it,” she recalled. “It was life-changing for me.”
Adams started Cargill Aeronautical Academy in January 2011. The flight training school and aircraft rental business operates out of Capital City Airport in Fairview Township.
“It’s going well, and we just purchased the maintenance shop,” Adams said. “For the flight school, it’s good, because now you’re working on your own planes instead of paying someone else to work on them.”
But it was the flying that captivated her. Women make up just 6 percent of all pilots, and Adams wanted to draw more attention to her new hobby. So she signed up to take part in the Women’s Air Race Classic.
Adams made her way to California this week with Kelly Miller, 25, of Leola and 63-year-old Carol Church of Harrisburg. Miller is Adams’ niece and a beginner pilot, while Church has the most experience of the trio.
“For women, it’s a huge confidence booster,” Adams said. “When you’re in a plane, it has nothing to do with strength or anything.”
Known as Team Cargill, they are one of 52 teams flying the 2,300 miles. They will pilot a single-engine Diamond DA40. The race, which starts Monday in Concord, Calif., ends at Capital City.
Depending on the weather, Adams said, the trio of pilots expects to spend four days flying their way back to Capital City.
“It was something I thought would be an adventure of a lifetime and have been planning for it the last year,” Adams said. “The air race is a chance to be around those 6 percent of people that you don’t get a chance to be around in my business.”
While more female pilots would be great, Adams would like to see more people, period. She blames a variety of misconceptions and poor marketing for the lack of mainstream interest in flying.
“It’s an industry where you really have to reach out to the public,” she said. “People have a fear of flying, or they think it’s cost prohibitive, or it’s unsafe. So you really have to get people past those feelings.”