Indiana State University Newsroom

18-year-old pilot represents ISU in national air race event

June 28, 2010


Two Indiana State University women who competed last week in a national women's air race brought home a second place finish in the collegiate competition and landed in the eighth spot among 51 teams.

It was a finish that 18-year-old pilot Kay Brown, of Avon, hadn't even dreamed of a year ago.

"This time last year I didn't even know what this air race was," she said of the 2010 Air Race Classic, formerly known as the Powder Puff Derby, which dates back to 1929.

As the youngest pilot in the competition, she had some concerns before June 22 when she took off from Fort Myers, Fla. en route to Frederick, Md.

"I was pretty nervous going into it about how much traffic there would be in the air and how we'd all communicate with each other," she said. "But there was no problem. The pilots were all very nice. Everyone was really respectful of me, even though I'm young. Actually, they were pretty excited to see someone my age doing this."

One year ago, while Brown was still studying to earn her pilot's license, her 2010 co-pilot Jessica Campbell was competing in the race with ISU aviation technology instructor Victoria Dunbar. The pair placed second overall in the 2009 competition and won the collegiate division.

"Going in, our goal this year was to win the collegiate division again," said Campbell, who graduated from ISU in May. "And finishing in the top 10 would have been fantastic."

Even though this year's performance fell just shy of that goal, Campbell isn't second-guessing herself or her teammate.

"The race went really smoothly," she said. "We didn't make any mistakes in the competition and there were no penalties. We flew what we thought was an excellent race and there's nothing to be disappointed about in that. We are really happy with what we did."

The annual Air Race Classic takes place each summer and includes a route of approximately 2,400 miles that can be flown only during daylight hours. Each competing team's plane is assigned a handicap speed and each team can take up to four days to complete the race.

Pilots are given the leeway to fly at times of their choosing and strategize based on weather patterns and wind speeds. The official standings are not determined until after the final entrant crosses the finish line, and the latest arrival can actually turn out to be the winner.

Brown and Campbell said their strategy was to seek out the best tail winds and avoid difficult weather conditions.

That left them completing three legs on the first day of the race in seven hours of flight time. On the second day, they completed two legs, touched down briefly and then finished a third. On the third day of racing, they reached their destination.

Having the opportunity to fly the Diamond DA40 aircraft, which the Greencastle-based Dixie Chopper Air donated for use in the race, was a real bonus for Brown. The aircraft, with its "glass cockpit" of electronic instrument displays made navigation easy, she said.

Other highlights for the women came through their momentary brush with fame at every stop as reporters from local newspapers approached them to ask about their experience.

"As soon as we stepped off the plane, they came straight up to us," Brown said. "It was a little strange, but Jessica had been through it before. She was a big help."

The flight of the ISU team was sponsored by the ISU Foundation as part of March On! The Campaign for Indiana State University. The comprehensive fundraising campaign is scheduled to run through December 2011. Information about the campaign may be found at

Writer and contact: Rachel Wedding McClelland, assistant director of media relations, ISU Communications and Marketing, 812-237-3790 or


Kay Brown (right) and Jessica Campbell's successful flight in the Air Race Classic helped them land eighth place in a national competition against a field of 51 women pilots from across the United States (ISU Photo/Kara Berchem).