Amanda Farnsworth, BS’81, MS’83: Historic flight

Amanda Farnsworth, left, and Dee Dee Turner prepare to fly to Havana Aug. 9, 2016. (COURTESY OF AMANDA FARNSWORTH)

Amanda Farnsworth, left, and Dee Dee Turner prepare to fly to Havana Aug. 9, 2016. (COURTESY OF AMANDA FARNSWORTH)

 

Sometimes flights of fancy end up making history.

As a young girl growing up in Winchester, Tennessee, Amanda Farnsworth gazed skyward at small private planes navigating the wide-open blue. “I would always think, ‘Oh, I want to do that.’ It looked like so much fun,” she recalls.

It wasn’t until Farnsworth was 40 that she made good on her dream and took flying lessons. Sixteen years later, in August 2016, she grabbed headlines by piloting her fixed-wing, single-engine Cirrus SR22T to Cuba, a feat made possible by the diplomatic thaw underway between the U.S. and the communist nation. Joining her for the ride was fellow alumna Dee Dee Turner, BS’84, making the pair one of the very first female crews to land a private aircraft on the island in 60 years.

“Cuban ATC [air traffic control] was extremely surprised to hear a female voice on the line,” says Farnsworth, chairwoman of Consumers Insurance Group in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. “He said, ‘Hello, lady. Welcome to Cuba.’ I thought that was really cute. I’m happy to report that the Cuban ATC was excellent, and the trip went very smoothly.”

Flying by instruments only, the 300-nautical-mile flight from Orlando, Florida, to Havana took two hours.

The friends then spent three days touring Cuba, visiting Ernest Hemingway’s estate, and meeting the Cuban ambassador to the United Nations, among other government officials.

When President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro agreed to normalize relations in December 2014, Farnsworth set into motion plans to make her journey before commercial flights could begin, when a steady flow of tourists would alter the face of a nation frozen in time—there are no chain stores, and the country is replete with 1950s-era American cars—because of its role in the Cold War.

“We knew once tourism started in Cuba that things would change because the money would flow,” Farnsworth says.

The Trump administration has since called into question efforts at rapprochement. Whatever the outcome, Farnsworth knows where to find escape from political headwinds.

“There’s this crazy peace about the skies, a peace that’s so freeing,” she says. “You don’t have cell service up there, and you don’t have Wi-Fi. It’s an awesome place to relax and visit with whomever is in the plane with you.”

Farnsworth serves on the boards of directors for the Metro Nashville Airport Authority and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association in Washington. She also volunteers for Vanderbilt, serving last year as Reunion Weekend chair for the Class of 1981. Farnsworth’s daughter, Alexandra, is a senior economics major at Vanderbilt and a member of the women’s golf team. (In July she won the 23rd Illinois State Women’s Open.) Farnsworth also financially supported the new indoor golf facility at the Vanderbilt Legends Club.

—ANDREW FAUGHT



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