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Three female pilots hope to inspire girls watching them fly at Duluth Airshow

Airshow pilots are usually men, but three women performing at this weekend's Duluth Airshow hope more women take to the skies.

Planes perform at air show
Maj. Kristin “Beo” Wolfe pilots an F-35 during the Duluth Air and Aviation Expo at the Duluth International Airport on Saturday, July 16, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — After flying her Pitts Special biplane straight up into stalls, performing barrel rolls and wowing the crowd with other aerobatic maneuvers, Jessy Panzer hopes girls in the audience are watching when she’s back on the ground and exiting her plane.

They’re often surprised to see it was a woman behind the stick.

“It blows their mind, which is so great because it breaks barriers they may not have even known were there,” Panzer told the News Tribune after her Saturday performance at the Duluth Air and Aviation Expo at the Duluth International Airport. “It opens doors just to be here and let them see this is possible.”

Planes perform at air show
Jessy Panzer talks about being a stunt pilot during the Duluth Air and Aviation Expo at the Duluth International Airport on Saturday, July 16, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

A pilot for the past 25 years and an aerobatic pilot for 22 of them, Panzer, 43, of Lincoln, Nebraska, said she grew up around planes. Her dad was a corporate pilot who died in a plane crash when she was 7, but she knew how much he loved flying. And, as a child, she lived under the traffic pattern in Colorado Springs.

Planes perform at air show
A Curtis Pitts Special stunt plane piloted by Jessy Panzer of Lincoln, Nebraska performs during the Duluth Air and Aviation Expo at the Duluth International Airport on Saturday, July 16, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Without that exposure to aviation, she’s not sure she’d have pursued it as a career.

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Aviation remains a male-dominated industry, and airshows are no exceptions — female pilots are still a rarity.

But things are changing.

Panzer was one of three women flying in this weekend’s Duluth Air and Aviation Expo.

F-16 fighter aircraft perform in formation
Maj. Lauren Schlichting, a pilot with the United States Air Force Thunderbirds, is one of three female pilots performing during the Duluth Air and Aviation Expo at the Duluth International Airport on Saturday, July 16, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Maj. Lauren “Threat” Schlichting, 32, a native of Stillwater, Minnesota and a 2012 graduate of St. Thomas University in St. Paul, is a member of the Air Force’s Thunderbirds, the airshow’s marquee event, and flew the demonstration team’s No. 3 plane.

According to an article on the St. Thomas website , Schlichting is just the sixth female pilot to fly as a Thunderbird.

F-16 fighter aircraft perform in formation
Maj. Lauren Schlichting, in the No. 3 aircraft with the United States Air Force Thunderbirds, waves to the crowd during the Duluth Air and Aviation Expo at the Duluth International Airport on Saturday, July 16, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

The six-plane squadron completes difficult maneuvers, sometimes just 18 inches away from each other.

Like Panzer, she wants to be an inspiration for girls at airshows.

“I think it’s really important when you have a dream that you see yourself in someone else who’s accomplished that dream. I go out to events, and little girls want to come talk to me. It’s special to me because I was that girl,” Schlichting said, according to the St. Thomas article.

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Planes perform at air show
Maj. Kristin “Beo” Wolfe talks about being a F-35 pilot during the Duluth Air and Aviation Expo at the Duluth International Airport on Saturday, July 16, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Maj. Kristin “Beo” Wolfe, commander of the F-35A Lightning II Demonstration Team, showed off what the Air Force’s advanced fighter jet could do — from minimum radius turns and loops, to high-speed passes and a slow-speed pass that shows just how slow the plane can fly without stalling.

“The airplane can’t tell the difference in who’s flying it,” Wolfe, 33, told the News Tribune ahead of her F-35 demonstration. “As long as you keep your wingman next to you alive and fly the airplane as good as the person next to you, nobody really cares what you look like when you get out of the cockpit.”

Planes perform at air show
Maj. Kristin “Beo” Wolfe pilots a F-35 during the Duluth Air and Aviation Expo at the Duluth International Airport on Saturday, July 16, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Wolfe said the aviation industry is becoming more diverse but acknowledged there’s still work to do.

“We have a long way to go,” Wolfe said. “But at least we’re getting there by kind of showing some different sorts of people different airplanes.”

Planes perform at air show
A Curtis Pitts Special stunt plane piloted by Jessy Panzer of Lincoln, Nebraska, performs during the Duluth Air and Aviation Expo at the Duluth International Airport on Saturday, July 16, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
Planes perform at air show
A Lockheed C-130 Hercules hovers over crowds for the Duluth Air and Aviation Expo at the Duluth International Airport on Saturday, July 16, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
Planes perform at air show
The Smoke N Thunder Jet Truck races the Jelly Belly Interstate Cadet plane during the Duluth Air and Aviation Expo at the Duluth International Airport on Saturday, July 16, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
Planes perform at air show
The Smoke N Thunder Jet Truck fires its afterburners for the Duluth Air and Aviation Expo at the Duluth International Airport on Saturday, July 16, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
Planes perform at air show
Reid Rousan, 8, of Waconia, Minnesota, watches the Duluth Air and Aviation Expo at the Duluth International Airport on Saturday, July 16, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
Planes perform at air show
People examine static displays at the Duluth Air and Aviation Expo at the Duluth International Airport on Saturday, July 16, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
Planes perform at air show
A member of the KC-135 flight crew waves to the audience after landing at the Duluth Air and Aviation Expo at the Duluth International Airport on Saturday, July 16, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
Planes perform at air show
Thrian Johnson, 4, of Askov, Minnesota, flys a toy helicopter during the Duluth Air and Aviation Expo at the Duluth International Airport on Saturday, July 16, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
Planes perform at air show
Finley Miller, 7, of Duluth is lifted by his dad Jake Miller to look at the engine of a Vought F4U Corsair during the Duluth Air and Aviation Expo at the Duluth International Airport on Saturday, July 16, 2022, in Duluth. Miller has a model of the aircraft at his home.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
Planes perform at air show
Aerobatic pilots Kent Pietsch, left, of Minot, North Dakota, and Jessy Panzer, of Lincoln, Nebraska, greet each other after flying for the Duluth Air and Aviation Expo at the Duluth International Airport on Saturday, July 16, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
F-16 fighter aircraft perform in formation
The United States Air Force Thunderbirds fly in tight formation during the Duluth Air and Aviation Expo at the Duluth International Airport on Saturday, July 16, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
F-16 fighter aircraft perform in formation
Two F-16 fighters fly past each other with the United States Air Force Thunderbirds during the Duluth Air and Aviation Expo at the Duluth International Airport on Saturday, July 16, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
F-16 fighter aircraft perform in formation
F-16 fighter planes with the United States Air Force Thunderbirds break a formation during the Duluth Air and Aviation Expo at the Duluth International Airport on Saturday, July 16, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
F-16 fighter aircraft perform in formation
Planes with the United States Air Force Thunderbirds fly in formation during the Duluth Air and Aviation Expo at the Duluth International Airport on Saturday, July 16, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
F-16 fighter aircraft perform in formation
F-16 fighter aircraft with the United States Air Force Thunderbirds pass each other during the Duluth Air and Aviation Expo at the Duluth International Airport on Saturday, July 16, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Jimmy Lovrien covers energy, mining and the 8th Congressional District for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at jlovrien@duluthnews.com or 218-723-5332.
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