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Pilot Jessy Panzer used to fear flying but now has a knack for aerobatics

Panzer is set to be 1 of only 2 women flying in the Air and Water Show this weekend.

Team Oracle pilots Jessy Panzer and Sean Tucker take a test flight before this weekend’s Chicago Air and Water Show.
Megan Nagorzanski/Sun-Times

[Jessy Panzer used to be afraid of flying. Her father, a corporate pilot, died in a plane accident when she was young.

“I was afraid of it for a little while, but the curiosity and fascination with what he loved so much about it just kind of took over,” she said.

Panzer not only got over that fear, she is now one of only two female pilots who will fly in this weekend’s 61st Chicago Air and Water Show. She’s flying an Extra 300L two-seater as a part of Team Oracle alongside pilot Sean Tucker for the first time, but she’s been flying aerobatics since 2000.

“I’ve always wanted to come fly here, and it’s just never been an opportunity until this year so I’m very, very excited and very honored,” she said.

The Lincoln, Nebraska-based pilot first went for an aerobatics ride while studying aeronautical science and was “hooked instantly.”

The feeling of being above the clouds keeps her coming back, she said.

“It’s a view like you’ve never seen,” she said. “You’ve never seen the world like this, so it changes your perspective, and the sensation on your body is super fun and super cool.”

Only 7 percent of all United States pilot certificates are held by women, and Panzer estimates that there are only about 10 female aerobatic pilots of her skill level — the top of the top.

“There’s only a handful that are doing it at the level that I’m doing it at,” she said, adding that the Air and Water Show has given her a platform to represent other women pilots.

“I’m very honored and humbled to be in that position and do my best to live up to that every day,” she said.

The other woman pilot in the show this weekend is Susan Dacy flying in the Super Stearman.

Panzer said many little girls might not even know that flying could be a potential career. But to those girls, she says, “Go for it.”

“If they’re interested, eyes to the sky, watching those airplanes fly by, fan that flame,” Panzer said. “If you have a dream in your heart ... even if it sounds crazy to other people, if it sounds right to you and resonates in your soul, you’ve got to follow it.”

As for this weekend, Panzer said she knows the weight the Air and Water Show carries.

She said she’s most looking forward to “flying for the crowd in that venue. It’s one of the most spectacular venues in the world. The excitement and energy that comes with all of that is electric.”