Interview with Heather Penney Pilot of L-29 Raju Grace

What a pleasure it was to interview Heather Penney while at Reno this year.  She was quite a sought-after woman on this her debut year of racing at the National Championship Air Races flying Raju Grace, a beautiful L-29 in the Jet Class.

I was pleasantly surprised by her graceful manner in handling the multitude of photographers, press and fans who were literally screaming for a moment of her time – wanting photos, autographs, interviews and any conversation with her – almost as thought many would be satisfied if they could just look into those pretty eyes!

I met Heather while out photographing color (fans) for RARA.  All  of a sudden, I heard a big commotion the grandstands to my left.  Fans were hooting and hollering, people were standing up and waving.  Then, ever so slightly, I could make out the name the fans were shouting…”Heather – Hey Heather!”  I turned around and wouldn’t you know it, there was Heather, flanked by a photographer no less, walking through the box seats towards the pits, everyone within ear-shot going wild!

Of course I seized the moment…(opportunity)…being a fan myself, and journalist…  quickly I turned around and immediately began taking her photograph…wouldn’t you?  “This one will make it into the program next year, ” I thought to myself with serendipitous excitement!  In my mind I was shouting, “Get out-of-the-way! I wish that flippen photog would just move already..!”  Somehow he read my mind and moved to the side – evidently I have a powerful unspoken language.  I was able to get an uncluttered photograph of Heather in her smart, army green flight suit…with the name of the aircraft she was flying hand written on her leather name plate.

To my amazement Heather approached me with her giant smile and introduced herself.  In turn I asked if she wouldn’t mind a modest interview for the WarBirdBabe Blog.  Quite straight-faced she asked me to hold on for a moment while she looked at her schedule on her “Palm Pilot.”  …While waiting and observing this tiny woman I wondered how in the world she handles the G’s in the L-29 and F-16’s she flies for the Air National Guard?   Finally I noticed she found her pen.  She asked me what would be a good time for the interview and then, wrote the note to herself on her palm…a.k.a  the “Palm Pilot”  …That was a good one.  Down to earth and funny…  Then she followed up with, “OK, that’s 2:30 by the jet – see you then!… and by the way, my mom and dad (Pilot John Penney) are in Section 3 if you want to interview her (Heather’s mom)!” 

So the graceful Pilot Heather Penney gave me an interview under the wing of the L-29 Raju Grace she’s flying this year. (Only after asking me if I wouldn’t mind if she quickly spoke to an old family friend, someone whom she hadn’t had the opportunity to see yet at the races… a General Sherman I think she said as she ran up to him…and, after having just completed a lengthy video interview in the hot 98 degree sunshine, tarmac radiating heat (and melting shoes), with reflective video panels purposefully shinning on her face, and while still in her long sleeve flight suit), Heather Penney asked me if I wouldn’t mind if she made me wait a moment longer??  …No problem!

She’s a talented, graceful, mother, daughter, fighter pilot, jet race pilot and in my humble opinion, Woman of the Reno Race Year.   I hope you enjoy this simple interview…

We all hope to see you make this an annual event!

Good Luck and God’s Speed Heather Penney!

Kimberley West, WarBirdBabe


  1. What a beautiful lady and patriot. Her smile is electrifying. Her fortitude
    eminates from within her spirit. How I wish America had a million more like her. I am sure anyone who knows her sleeps very comforably knowing she is our skies keeping the peace and protecting us. God Bless Heather Penney.

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