Alan Clark

Sept. 11 is a date etched in the memories of many of us, and to some it is an historical occurrence only to read and hear about.

In case you missed the Sept. 11, 2019, edition of the Tennessean newspaper (and that’s a distinct possibility since the places locally to find them are few and getting fewer), there was an interesting front-page read for us here in Franklin County.

A half-page color photo accompanied an article written by Jessica Bliss outlining the intention of Amanda Farnsworth to pilot her plane along a historic World War II route to commemorate a group of flyers and to empower girls to become pilots.

Amanda is standing in front of her Cirrus Vision Jet airplane with a big smile on her face, wearing aviator sunglasses.

Behind and above her are black and white photos of two female pilots wearing uniforms and standing or leaning on their aircraft. These two, Dorothy Olsen and Cornelia Fort, were pioneer members of the Women Airforce Service Pilots in the 1940s.

It was Amanda’s intent to depart Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11 this year and fly to Normandy in France, a route used by the war-era pilots to deliver warplanes, pilots, equipment and supplies for the planned Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe called Operation Overlord or referred to just as D-Day.

The local connection is that Amanda, an investment banker in Nashville, is the daughter of Franklin County High School Football Hall of Famer Jim Cunningham.

Cunningham is also a former football co-captain at Vanderbilt who helped guide the Commodores to their first-ever bowl game and later became an “insurance man” (according to the article) here in Winchester.

Jim’s a proud papa but not without reservations.

“I’m a little concerned about Amanda flying across the Atlantic Ocean solo with a single-engine airplane,” he told me.

Well, Amanda’s aircraft is a bit different from the one Lucky Lindy used to fly solo across the Atlantic in 1923.

The million-dollar high-tech Cirrus has so much instrumentation packed into the cockpit that it looks a little like a NASA shuttle inside.

Cirrus is usually on the leading edge of this type productivity and was among the first to design and develop a parachute embedded in the plane to soften a so-called “crash” landing if anything went wrong during flight. The plane itself could float to the ground.

Amanda has been flying for 20 years, so she has the hours, I am sure.

Beyond remembering and honoring the remarkable group of female flyers who navigated dangerous skies as WAF pilots, she also wants to stimulate interest in science, technology, engineering and math career fields such as aviation, especially for girls.

“I want to show them the path forward,” she is quoted as saying.

As I write, Amanda is en route to her final destination in France as a token of honor and recognition to pilots who perhaps for the first time are getting the recognition they deserved so long ago, and that’s the way it oughtta be. Thanks Amanda, and thank you, Jim.

Alan Clark is an award-winning editorial writer and podcaster who flew with the military as an aerial observer in the artillery and later learned to fly in the same model of Cessna, the 172, used by Amanda during her flight training.