Colorado pilot earns spot in French air race

June 18, 2014

A pilot from Colorado who speaks three languages and recently became a flight instructor will soon be on her way to France to fly in the Tour Aérien Des Jeunes Pilotes, her expenses paid by the International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations (IAOPA).

Kayla Graham, 23, of Centennial, Colo., was selected from a pool of 34 qualified applicants by AOPA, IAOPA, and the Fédération Française Aéronautique. The organizations had sought applications from American pilots interested in flying in the 2014 race. Graham’s roundtrip airfare to France, airplane rental for the race, and other expenses will be covered. She will fly with an English-speaking French flight instructor.

Forty pilots between ages 18 and 24 will take part in the Tour Aérien Des Jeunes Pilotes July 19 to Aug. 3. The event, in its fifty-seventh year, seeks to inspire the next generation of pilots and promote general aviation in France. Representatives of the Fédération Française Aéronautique visited AOPA in May 2013 to discuss the history of the race, which is made possible by volunteers, experienced pilots, and flying clubs.

Graham, who works for navigation information company Jeppesen maintaining terminal approach charts (in the Australia quadrant) said in a phone interview that she felt “fortunate, blessed” to learn she had been selected as the American race participant.

A language major in college, Graham has conversational command of French and Spanish. As "a language nerd before I ever got into aviation," she said she sees the upcoming trip as a rare opportunity to combine her twin passions for linguistics and aviation in a single activity.

Even before Graham learned that she would be participating in a European air race, her immersion in aviation in 2014 had shifted into high gear: About three weeks ago, she earned her flight instructor’s certificate and joined the instructors’ ranks of the Aspen Flying Club flying from Centennial Airport in Englewood, and Front Range Airport in Denver.

"It is the proudest I have felt yet with my flight accomplishments," she said of becoming a CFI. "I really love instructing."

Teaching mostly in Cessna 152s and 172s, Graham said she gets special satisfaction from sharing aviation with her students, and challenging them to master the mental processes of becoming a pilot. The two airports at which the club is based provide valuable variety for student pilots—Centennial being a high-volume general aviation facility and Front Range having more of “a country feel” to flight operations.

Working for Jeppesen also adds to her skills as a pilot and flight instructor, she said, noting that, "Looking at those charts all day works wonder."

Still not over the surprise of learning that she would be going to France as a race pilot, Graham was looking forward to making contact with the French pilot with whom she will share the cockpit during the seven-stop event.

In a follow-up email, she noted that she had begun reading up on French airspace and flight procedures (although she did not specify the language in which she was conducting her studies).

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz | Aviation Writer

Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.