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June 11, 2013

Purdue student pilots tackle women's historic cross-country air race

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Two female Purdue University students will take off Tuesday (June 18) from Pasco, Wash., in a small plane for a three-day race that crisscrosses the country before finishing in Fayetteville, Ark. 

Captain Amanda Keck, a senior from Crown Point, Ind., is returning to the women-only Air Race Classic after serving as Purdue's co-pilot in 2012. Joining her in the cockpit is co-pilot Rachel Borsa, a junior form Erie, Pa. Keck will be the first Purdue competitor to fly an advanced Cirrus SR22 after a decade of the team flying an older, less powerful, manually controlled Piper Warrior II. A Purdue alum donated the airplane to help the team and help Purdue students earn their high-performance endorsement.

"This Cirrus climbs like a rocket, which will help since more than half the race is over mountains," Keck said. "It's about 50 percent faster than the old Warrior. We can complete more legs in a day to make up time if we get hampered or grounded by bad weather, which is entirely possible as we travel through Tornado Alley."

Keck has dreamed of being an airline pilot for years ever since babysitting for a female United Airlines pilot who frequently jetted off to glamorous destinations like London and Brazil.

The Air Race Classic traces its origins to women-only races that were started by pilots, including Amelia Earhart, who were banned from competing against men. Purdue recruited Earhart to come to the university to encourage coeds to pursue non-traditional careers.

The aviators will be supported by a ground crew at Purdue that will constantly monitor weather to calculate the best strategy and path to maximize performance against dozens of teams. Because this year's plane is faster, the race's handicap system will require that Purdue's team complete the race more quickly. The goal is to complete the entire course as quickly as possible, but each team will ultimately be graded on how fast it flew compared to its aircraft's officially rated speed capability. Even a 50-foot difference in altitude can make a significant impact in how well the plane performs in an ever-changing environment. Keck also will be assisted by a device Earhart could never have imagined: an iPad on her knee with several handy tools including charts, live radar weather reports and Skype. 

Writer: Jim Schenke, 765-237-7296, jschenke@purdue.edu

Sources: Amanda Keck, akeck@purddue.edu

Rachel Borsa, rborsa@purdue.edu 

Related Web sites: 
Purdue University Aviation Technology
Air Race Classic

Note to Journalists: The team departs for the starting line from Purdue Airport Hangar 6 at approximately 8 a.m. on Wednesday (June 12).  Photo, video and interview opportunities begin at 7:30 a.m.  Photos, B-Roll and sound bites will be available later on request. For more information, contact Jim Schenke, Purdue News Service, at 765-237-7296 or jschenke@purdue.edu.