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Mon, Jun 20, 2005

Gretchen Jahn Is Off And Running

Mooney CEO Prepares For Air Race Classic

By ANN Senior Editor Peter Combs

Gretchen Jahn talks on a cell phone as she warily watches her airplane being inspected. It's only natural that she's flying a Mooney Ovation. After all, she runs the company. But this Ovation is being inspected as part of the 2005 Air Race Classic in Lafayette, IN, and Gretchen is especially motivated to see it pass.

"They're almost done inspecting the airplane. They probably don't need me anymore," she said. But you could tell she had one eye firmly fixed on the aircraft and inspector as the process was being wrapped up.

This is Jahn's 14th year as a participant in the Air Race Classic. Although she's never won the competition, she's come close a few times.

"It's a major goal of mine to win this race," she said with obvious determination.

Each of the 41 aircraft slated for take-off on Tuesday is piloted by a team of women. Some have passengers. In Jahn's case, the partner is perhaps one of the most quietly remarkable women to ever grace aviation. Ruby Sheldon, 87, is most noted for her calmness under emergency conditions, a trait she's tried to teach others for more than five decades.

"For a period of seven years, she worked for the US Geological Survey," Jahn told ANN. "She flew helicopters on the North Slope of Alaska, flying scientists out onto the ice. She's been checked out in a lot of airplanes that most of the rest of us just read about in books."

Jahn's admiration for Sheldon is more than evident.

"She's checked out in the DC-3," Jahn said of her partner. "She's most proud of being rated in the OV-10 Mohawk." But Jahn said Sheldon is most noted for her instruction on dealing with emergency procedures during flight reviews -- "the kind I've never seen before."

For instance?

"At the time she did a flight review for me, I was flying a Cessna," Jahn said. "She said, 'On [older aircraft], sometimes the throttle cable breaks, which means you're now at full throttle. How do you land?"

Over the next half-hour, Sheldon ran Jahn through the procedures of cutting off the fuel mixture and landing dead-stick. If the throttle cable in your airplane breaks tomorrow, Sheldon is the first person you want in the cockpit with you. Jahn is the second.

"She has you always learning new things," Jahn said. "We have a great time in the cockpit."

Jahn said she's very much looking forward to the race, but her participation doesn't end at the finish line. She is the treasurer of this event, having taken over when the Air Race Classic was in a bit of financial trouble.

"We reorganized as a non-profit," she said. "Our board is all volunteer -- there are no paid employees. They do it all for the love of aviation and love of racing." Thanks, in part, to Jahn's mastery of financial matters -- and the work of the unpaid board of directors -- the Classic is now a stable, thriving entity, carrying on in the tradition of its founders, who started the Powder Puff Derby in 1929.

It's the same sort of turn-around Jahn's company -- Mooney Airplane Company -- has experienced over the past couple of years, thanks to her guidance. But Jahn is determined that this story is about the air race. She promises to talk about Mooney some other time.

The sound of a revving aircraft engine drowns out her voice on the cell phone. She excuses herself for a moment as an inspector tells her the run-up -- and the inspection -- are over. She passed.

And perhaps -- just perhaps -- this year she'll go on to win. But that, too, is another story.



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