High-Flying Duo Takes Home Gold

By Virginia Breen

Jul 2, 2009 4:33pm

   Co-pilots Kelly Burris, left, and Erin Recke      (photo courtesy Erin Recke) ABC News on Campus Reporter Loren Grush blogs: It may have been 72 years ago to the day that Amelia Earhart disappeared in the Pacific, but to part-time Michigan pilot Kelly Burris, the famous female aviator will always remain a source of inspiration. “Amelia had a saying: ‘When a great adventure presents itself, you don’t refuse it,’” Burris said.  “That’s something I’ve always tried to live by.” Burris, alongside her co-pilot Erin Recke from Bellingham, Wash., took home first prize last week in the Air Race Classic, an annual cross-country race open to female pilots. The race dates back to 1929, when some of the country’s first female pilots wanted to fly, but weren’t given the chance.  The history-making Earhart was one of them.  “Back then, there was this general perception that women in aviation were inherently dangerous,” said Terry Carbonell, secretary for the Air Race Classic. “So since they weren’t allowed to compete with men, they created their own all-women race.  This year’s race celebrates 80 years since that original race.” Burris and Recke flew on behalf of Angel Flights, a charity organization that provides free air transportation for patients with medical needs.  Since the results weren’t calculated until everyone landed, the pair had to wait two days before they found out if they had won. “We knew we had flown pretty well, but we had no way of knowing how we ranked compared to everyone else,” said Recke, who is a full-time commercial airline pilot for Delta Connections.  “But when they announced the second-place finishers, we knew it had to be us since there was no one left.” Burris said the feeling was unreal.  “The place just erupted with applause,” said Burris.  “It was so amazing.  I don’t remember a time in the recent past that I’ve been that happy.” The duo found each other through a chance encounter a couple of years ago. “I saw an advertisement for the Classic in one of my aviation magazines and thought how cool it would be to find a co-pilot and fly in the race,” said Burris.  “So I started to look around.” Recke came across Burris’s e-mail when she joined the Women in Aviation Organization.  Burris’s e-mail included a mention of her Debonair, a rare single-engine aircraft, which sparked Recke’s curiosity. She sent Burris an e-mail welcoming her to the organization. As soon as Burris got Recke’s e-mail, she asked if she wanted to team up for the Classic. Carbonell says the race is a great way for women to have more faith in their abilities as pilots. “The ultimate goal is to promote general aviation and to promote women in aviation as well,” said Carbonell.  “Most women as aviators tend to fly with their significant others, brothers, or other male family figures.  This race is an opportunity for girls to fly just with other women and rely on themselves.  It’s a huge confidence builder.” The race took contestants across America through Wisconsin, Illinois, Mississippi, and other states. But Burris said her favorite stop was Sweetwater, Texas, home to the National Women Airforce Service Pilots (or WASP) Museum.  She says that these great women, like Earhart, are the reason she flies. “Here are women who had passions and goals, and didn’t let other people’s expectations stand in their way,” said Burris.  “When there are women like that who have made history and followed their dreams, it makes it easier for women like me to follow in their footsteps.” Check out Kelly and Erin's blog at IMC-Free.

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