June 15, 2021

Media Advisory – SIU Carbondale female aviators competing in Air Race Classic

Reporters, photographers and video crews are welcome to attend a flight send-off for the three teams from Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s School of Aviation that will compete this week in the 2021 Air Race Classic, the nation’s only women’s air race.

Team members from each of the SIU’s three entries will be available for interviews at 1 p.m.. Thursday, June 17, at the Transportation Education Center, located at Southern Illinois Airport. In addition to interviews with the participants, b-roll opportunities of planes landing and taking off will be available. Media should meet in Transportation Education Center main lobby.

This is the sixth year that SIU will be represented in the event. In 2015, Stephanie Armstrong and Jessica Reed won both the overall and collegiate division title.

The Air Race Classic celebrates the history of women in aviation. Amelia Earhart was one of 20 women to compete in the first women’s Air Derby in 1929.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 44th Air Race Classic will be an Air Derby. Instead of the usual format where race routes are approximately 2,400 statute miles with eight or nine timing points that last several days, teams this year choose their own 5-leg, one-day route between June 12 and June 26. Awards will be announced June 27 in a virtual event.

Weather permitting, SIU’s entries will participate later in the week or this weekend. More than 80 teams from across the nation, including 15 collegiate teams, are scheduled to compete.

Each team is comprised of a pilot and co-pilot. SIU’s three flight crews, each consisting of an instructor and student, will be in new 2021 Cessna 172S aircraft. Each of the certified flight instructors graduated from SIU’s aviation program, which this fall is projected to have at least 15% female aviation flight students in the program. That is nearly double the national average of 8% of licensed female pilots.

The Saluki Dawgs ­– Pilot Meadow Boden and co-pilot Rachel Piacentini. Boden is a junior in aviation management and flight from Bushnell, Illinois and is working on her instrument rating and time building for her commercial pilot certificate; Piacentini is chief pilot of executive transportation for SIU and competed twice in the event, as a student in 2016 and as an instructor in 2018.

The Saluki Aces – Pilot Sophie Ottoson and co-pilot Gabrielle Escudero. Ottoson is a senior in aviation management and flight from Kaneville, Illinois and is working toward her commercial certificate. Escudero is a flight instructor at SIU and hopes to fly for the airlines someday as well. She and Piacentini teamed together in the 2018 air race. Ottoson and Escudero have been trying to complete the normal four-day Air Race Classic for two years now, but COVID-19 threw a wrench in their plans a year ago.

The Saluki Sky Surfers – Pilot Vernecelyn Allen and co-pilot Abby Lee. Allen, who is from Memphis, Tennessee, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in aviation management in May 2021. She will finish her aviation flight program in August and is completing her flight instructor certification. Lee graduated from SIU’s aviation program in 2020 and is a certified flight instructor.

More information the event is available at airraceclassic.org.

If you are interested in covering the event, contact Pete Rosenbery at prosen@siu.edu or 618-453-1439 by 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 16.