Monday, June 20, 2011

Alabama: Mobile pilots take part in 35th Air Race Classic Mobile pilots take part in 35th Air Race Classic
MOBILE, Alabama — When 50 planes with 105 female team members land at Brookley Field June 24-25 to complete the Air Race Classic 2011, two Mobile pilots will be among them.

The 35th annual air race for women pilots begins June 21 in Iowa City, Iowa, and Amelia “Mimi” Reiheld and Linda Keller will make up Team Number 6, the “Azalea City Avgals.”

Co-pilot Reiheld grew up in Spring Hill, attended Mary B. Austin Elementary School and graduated from Murphy High School. Her father was the late Roy Thigpen, a well-known Mobile photographer; her brother, Alec, is also a photographer in Mobile. Reiheld now lives with her husband, Rob, in what she describes as “pretty, historic little Edenton, N.C.”

Though she’s removed from the Gulf Coast by geography, she returns to Mobile fairly often to visit family, and “whenever my Mooney 231’s wings cross that lovely delta, I feel very much at home again,” she writes in the team’s blog,

Linda Keller, who will pilot her N5174L 1967 Cherokee 180 “Miss Lima” in the race, lives in west Mobile.

“As the saying goes,” she says in the blog, “ ‘I’m not from here, but I got here as fast as I could.' " She moved to Mobile nine years ago after crisscrossing America “from midwest to northwest to southeast to midwest back to the southeast.”

Reiheld came by her love of flying as a passenger in her father’s plane as he did his work as an aerial photographer. And, she said, “I consider it such a privilege to be flying.”

She is a part of Angel Flight Soars, a humanitarian effort that provides free air transportation for people who have a medical need that can’t be filled in their local area. (See .)

Keller said that for many years she was happy just to be a passenger in a plane piloted by her father-in-law, Ace Keller, a retired Air Force pilot.

She learned to fly “after the awful age of 40,” and often flies with her husband, Bruce, also a pilot. She is a realtor with Coldwell Banker Charles Hayes Real Estate and is an avid tennis player.

Flying in the race is very expensive, and the women have some sponsors whose donations will help finance the venture.

But, Reiheld said, “We could use additional sponsorship.” Twenty percent of all donated funds will be given to Angel Flight Soars, Reiheld said.

Along the race route, the all-female teams of flyers will make stops in North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Texas and Arkansas.

The Air Race Classic Inc. is a nonprofit dedicated “to encouraging current and future pilots, increasing public awareness of general aviation, demonstrating women’s awareness of general aviation and preserving and promoting the tradition of pioneering women in aviation,” according to the group’s mission statement.

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