sealPurdue News

March 20, 1998

Purdue headed to air race for fifth year
as only student team

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- A student organization at Purdue University is headed to the Air Race Classic for the fifth year in a row as the only all-student collegiate entry.

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Women in Aviation is an international organization with 3,000 members that helps students make a connection between the university, business and the community. The 35 students in the organization at Purdue send a team to compete in the annual Air Race Classic to gain experience in cross-country flying. They also prepare themselves for the job force, set up community events and travel to trade conferences.

The annual Air Race Classic is a summer cross-country race for female pilots. The three-day event takes teams of two across mountains and plains and through tough weather to test their skill at piloting. During the course of the race, the teams will travel more than 2,384 miles.

This year's race will start June 23 in Santa Fe, N.M., and end June 26 in Batavia, Ohio, with stops for refueling in Midland, Texas, Woodward, Okla., Ogallala, Neb., St. Joseph, Mo., Cape Girardeau, Mo., and Rome, Ga.

Two years ago, a Purdue team became the first collegiate team to win the race. For all four years that Purdue teams have participated, they have been the only all-student collegiate entry.

This year, the pilot for Purdue will be Amanda Zerr, a senior majoring in aviation technology from Defiance, Mo. "There is a responsibility involved with being the pilot for this race," she said. "Besides flying, we have to be concerned with the weather and plane safety. I think this year we will do well. We have been training religiously and have made a lot of progress."

Along with the experience gained, there is also some danger involved. "It can be dangerous if they run into bad weather," said Mary Ann Eiff, assistant professor of aviation technology and faculty adviser to Purdue's chapter of Women in Aviation. "They will also have to fly through mountainous regions, and there can be wind problems associated with this type of geologic feature. This gives them a chance to learn how to fly in these areas, and it helps them gain confidence. With the level of training these pilots receive, they should be able to handle anything nature throws at them."

Raegan Frazier, co-pilot and a sophomore majoring in aviation technology from Cape Cod, Mass. , said she is excited about the race. "We are really nervous because we are a young team. Most of the pilots are much older and have had long careers in commercial aviation. To compete against older and more experienced teams is a real challenge," she said. "What we lack in experience, we make up for with enthusiasm and training."

Originally called the "Powder Puff Derby," the contest dates back 79 years. Amelia Earhart competed in it, as did many women who were WASPs in World War II.

Teams fly only during daylight hours and good weather. They race against a "handicap" assigned to their plane based on its maximum cruising speed. The goal is to be faster than the handicap, and the winner is the team that beats its handicap by the largest margin.

Besides participating in the Air Race Classic, Women in Aviation works to spread the love of flying to the community. Members set up booths at local events for children and work with Lafayette-area Girl and Boy Scout troops. The troops visit the Purdue Airport, where they get hands-on experience with airplanes in the hangar and control tower. It give the Scouts an opportunity to earn their aviation badge.

"We give the Scouts a tour of the airport and let them tighten a few nuts and bolts," said Jennifer Strong, president of Women in Aviation and a junior majoring in aeronautical technology from Crown Point, Ind. "We also let the Scouts go in a Boeing 747 and the control tower to see how the air traffic controllers work to keep the skies safe. The Scouts really love it, and it shows the Girls Scouts at a young age that they can break stereotypes and can fly or work on planes just like the boys."

Sources: Mary Ann Eiff, (765) 494-9627; e-mail,
Raegan Frazier, (765) 495-1853
Jennifer Strong, (765) 743-5732
Amanda Zerr, (765) 495-1263
Writer: Jessica Kemery, (765) 494-2096; e-mail
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

Kelly McNamara, a Purdue sophomore in aviation technology and a member of Women in Aviation from Batavia, Ill., works with assistant professor Mike Leasure on an aircraft engine for a class project. (Purdue News Service Photo by Dave Umberger)
Color photo, electronic transmission, and Web and ftp download available. Photo ID: Eiff.Aviation
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