Twenty-year-old Jennifer Guetterman has returned from a free trip to France after participating as the only American among 75 racers in the Tour Aérien Des Jeunes Pilotes, which ran July 15 through 28.
The event was created to motivate the next generation of pilots and promote general aviation to the public, and Guetterman’s trip was funded by AOPA, the International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations, and the Fédération Française Aéronautique.
Guetterman said she is always looking for opportunities to improve her flying skills and experience new countries, which is why she wanted to enter the race. “I thought this would be a great opportunity, and it was awesome to learn how to fly in another country,” she said.
To prepare for the race, Guetterman studied French pilot and flying regulations, brushed up on her French, and used a handbook from Sporty’s to read up on the Diamond DA40 she used in the race. She also went up for a two-hour flight with a local flight instructor.
Guetterman compared the Tour Aérien Des Jeunes Pilotes to the Tour de France, where racers race individually, but also work as a team. She was on the blue team, named after their blue flight suits.
“We were like celebrities. Everywhere we landed, the media were there, along with kids excited to see the airplanes. They loved us,” said Guetterman. “France doesn’t have very many pilots, since it’s so expensive to learn how to fly, so seeing us was exciting for them.”
As an American and a female pilot, Guetterman said many people wanted to speak with her, but were reluctant because they didn’t speak much English. “So wherever I went, I was introduced and I always spoke French.”
Guetterman cited several highlights from her trip, including landing on a grass strip. “I also was the only member of my team to fly an Antonov An-2. I got the royal treatment in France,” she said.
The biggest takeaway from the race, said Guetterman, was learning that aviation is the same all over the world. “I expected to see differences, but pilots are pilots no matter where you go,” she said. “It was something we all had in common when there was nothing else to talk about.”
Guetterman had done 10 hours of instrument rating training before going to France. She now plans on finishing that in December, and then beginning training for her commercial certificate.