Engineers from Learjet, Garmin compete in cross-country women's air race

Kansas woman competes in a cross-country women's air race

Video posted by the Flying Magazine about Emmy Dillon, a Kansas woman competing in a cross-county air race.
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Video posted by the Flying Magazine about Emmy Dillon, a Kansas woman competing in a cross-county air race.

Two engineers, one from Bombardier Learjet in Wichita and the other from Garmin in Olathe, make up the Kansas team competing against 54 other teams in the 42nd women's Air Race Classic.

The four-day, 2,600-mile air race starts Tuesday in Sweetwater, Texas, and ends Friday in Fryeburg, Maine.

It's the third time competing but the first time as a team for Tessa Roberts, Bombardier section chief of field support engineering, and Emmy Dillon, a human factors engineer for Garmin's aviation systems division.

Dillon was a member of the overall winning team from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in the 2016 race.

Roberts met Dillon at the 2016 race and contacted her about joining her team for the past three years, the Sky Vixens.

"This young lady's going to keep me in tow," Roberts said, pointing to Dillon, during an interview Thursday.

They'll be flying a Cessna 182 — call sign, Classic 37 — owned by Textron Aviation Employees Flying Club. Roberts is a member of the club through her husband, Jon Heard, a Textron employee..

Roberts, the team captain, said she hopes having Dillon on the team will give them an edge flying against other piston-engine airplanes under visual flight rules in daytime hours only over 15 states.

"I think it's really good to fly with different people," Roberts said. "In aviation, you're always continually learning. Who better (to fly with and learn from) than somebody who's been successful."

But Dillion said pilot skills only account for 40 percent of what it takes to win the race. What really matters is luck.

"It takes so much more than being a good pilot," she said.

Roberts, who flew in her first race in 2016, said she initially signed up to do it because of the camaraderie.

"I thought it was a bunch of girls getting together and having a good time," she said. "But no, it's competitive."

The duo's progress can be tracked through the competition's website, www.airraceclassic.org.

Jerry Siebenmark: 316-268-6576, @jsiebenmark