pilot Sherry Kandle

Aviation racing, camping, and volunteering—pilot Sherry Kandle does them all!

photo and story by NATALIE BARTLEY

In June, Boisean Sherry Kandle completed her third cross-country race in her Cessna airplane. During the annual coast-to-coast Women’s Air Race Classic, Sherry and her female co-pilot covered 2,362 nautical miles in about 20 hours of flying time. Though the 4-day route varies yearly, the 2016 race started in Prescott, Arizona and finished at Daytona Beach, Florida with 55 planes participating. “I find racing the most interesting part of flying – it’s educational and I learn every time I do it,” says Sherry.

The race consisted of nine legs covering 200-300 miles per leg. At mandatory airport checkpoints, observers on the ground record each plane’s time. At each checkpoint, racers fly as fast as they can 200 to 300 feet above ground. “It’s fun and thrilling to go fast,” Sherry says. When you fly low to the ground, you feel the speed, more so than at higher altitudes.  Sherry explains that originally, women were not allowed to fly in men’s cross-country air races because the men thought it was too hard for a woman to fly solo and do her own repairs. The first women’s air race – the Powder Puff Derby – was sponsored by The Ninety-nines, Incorporated. Formed by 99 women pilots in 1929, this international organization of women pilots has over 5,000 members worldwide with two chapters in Idaho. The organization awards scholarships to women seeking pilots’ licenses. Sherry is a member and treasurer of the Northwest Section.

Various organizations have been in charge of the race over the years. Currently, the Women’s Air Race Classic is managed by volunteers. Sherry’s path to becoming a pilot and flying her own plane was a gradual process. It started when she met Doug Kandle, her future husband. “He said he had a plane and I thought that was a good pickup line,” she says. He took her up in his plane and they did spins. They attended aviation events such as the annual Experiential Aircraft Association (EAA) Airventure Oshkosh, held in Wisconsin. Doug and Sherry flew frequently to the backcountry to camp with friends and to southern Idaho airstrips to dine with other pilots at small-town restaurants. Yet, she did not feel the need to be a pilot. Sherry thought flying was exciting and adventurous. She says, “I enjoyed it and was never afraid to fly.”

For many years, she was into her career in the computer industry. Plus Sherry and her husband owned an airplane maintenance business based out of the Caldwell airport. Her hobbies at that time were reading and bicycling. “I was always enamored by those who fly but couldn’t imagine myself as a pilot,” says Sherry.

One year on their way from Oshkosh to Idaho, Doug and Sherry stopped for fuel. An 86-year-old female pilot helped push Doug’s plane away from the gas pump after their purchase. The woman asked why Sherry wasn’t using her husband’s plane to train to be a pilot. “I had all these opportunities to learn and I questioned myself why I didn’t,” says Sherry. Her excuses included that she didn’t have time, she was fearful of flying alone, and she didn’t want to take away from her recreation time to train as a pilot. A big shift in her aviation life came when she had a dream in which she flew with her husband, landed with him, and then dropped him off. Her dream continued with her flying solo but not knowing how to land the plane alone. “I do believe in the power of dreams,” Sherry says. Thus in her early-fifties, she started studying and practicing for a pilot’s license. She earned her license in 2009 with her husband as her flight instructor. Now at 61, she races long-distance and is the only female pilot in her group of her closest friends, consisting of male pilots and their spouses.

One of her best experiences in a plane was her first solo flight. On a sunny winter day, she overcame her fears and successfully completed her solo flight, a requirement for obtaining a pilot’s license. Now she has many solo hours under her wings. “I grew to love being up there alone – it’s peaceful, exciting, and I am in control,” says Sherry.

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Through flying, she enjoys planning flights, seeing the country, flying into new airports, and identifying the airport flight patterns and radio frequencies. A highlight for Sherry is the 10,000 to 12,000 airplanes that fly into the Oshkosh aviation show for the seminars, exhibits, and air shows. Her biggest challenge was encountering heavy crosswinds near Arco, Idaho, while flying home solo from Oshkosh.

Sherry owns her own plane and co-owns another while her husband builds his planes from kits. She says, “I never thought I would be so consumed by flying! It’s given me a purpose after retiring and I’ve met so many friends.” Sherry serves on the board for Chapter 103 of the EAA. She volunteers with the Young Eagles youth program and the Eagle Flights adult program where she introduces potential candidates to the world of flying.

For people considering recreational flying, she advises, “Flying is somewhat demanding so you have to take care of yourself, physically and mentally. Don’t quit flying, instead change your habits.” Some of the women pilots in the air races are in their 80s.

Sherry’s next goal is to obtain her instrument rating, enabling her to fly in bad weather and through clouds. In the meantime, look for Sherry and her friends at backcountry airstrips unloading their dogs and backpacks for hikes in the wilderness. As Sherry says, “Live your life and enjoy your adventures!”

Natalie Bartley is a Boise-based author of trail guidebooks Best Easy Day Hikes Boise and the newly updated Best Rail Trails Pacific Northwest.

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