Indiana State University Newsroom

Weather or Knot: Storms affect Indiana State pilots, aviation competition

July 11, 2011

When Indiana State University pilots Kay Brown and Melanie Abel landed in Alliance, Neb., they double-checked their GPS equipment to ensure they had reached the right airport.

They were the first team to arrive, though unfortunately, it didn't make a difference.

The cornfield community originally designated as a halfway stop of a national aviation race ultimately became the starting line for the storm-shortened Air Race Classic, a competition pitting female pilots from across the nation against each other on a cross-country trek. Harsh weather conditions caused race organizers to cancel the first of the four scheduled days for the race, along with half of the planned stops.

Pilots use different kinds of planes in the race, with each aircraft given a designated handicap speed, while the pilots work to have the plane's ground speed be as faster as the handicap speed as possible, according to the Air Race Classic website, which is at During this year's race, half of the stops were canceled while racing hours were extended on the fourth day, which left pilots with more choices to determine the best times to travel.

"We had almost three days to do half of the race, so there's a lot more strategy involved," Brown said. "You didn't have to start at noon on Wednesday. You could've waited, and that was completely different."

Though the Indiana State team did not bring home any trophies this year, the classic provided strong experience for Brown, a student looking to become a professional pilot after she graduates from ISU.

She was the youngest pilot in each of the past two Air Race Classics and did most of the ISU team's flying during the race. She benefited from flying with Abel, an ISU aviation technology instructor. Commercial pilots typically fly with other pilots and have to work together, Brown said.

"I think Melanie and I did our best that we could," Brown said. "We worked really well as a team, and got along really well."

The Air Race Classic wasn't all about the competition. Since women, who Brown said make up about six percent of all pilots, are the racers in the event, they had the opportunity to meet each other and network during meetings that occurred several days before the race began.

"It's just really unique to see the passion they have, and the joy they have for aviation," Abel said.

Some of the team's supporters kept informed of the team's progress during the race, which ran from June 22-24. The team regularly updated its Facebook page, including status changes and photos taken during the race. They also equipped the plane with a tracking device so that people could view their location as they flew.

"Last year we did like a blog just to our parents and to our family who wanted to know," Brown said, "but this year we wanted to get more people involved."

Though the weather made the competition difficult, Abel and Brown began preparing for the race earlier this year, including raising the funds to compete in the classic. Several organizations helped, with the Indiana State University Foundation acting as the primary sponsor.

Even with the difficulties, Abel and Brown hope to compete in the Air Race Classic next year. The 2012 competition is scheduled to start in Lake Havasu, Ariz., before heading north to Sault Ste Marie, Mich., near Canada and ending in southwestern Ohio.

"I just think it's an absolutely wonderful opportunity to network and utilize everything you learned and push you to get the best performance you can out of the airplane," Abel said of the race, "which is something we don't normally practice."

Photo: (ISU/Tony Campbell)
Indiana State University pilots Melanie Abel (left) and Kay Brown pose in front of the airplane they flew in the Air Race Classic, a flight race that features female pilots from around the nation on a cross country trek. Violent storms caused race officials to cancel about half of this year's race.

Photo: (ISU/Tony Campbell)
Indiana State University pilots Kay Brown (left) and Melanie Abel prepare the airplane prior to the Air Race Classic.

Writer: Austin Arceo, assistant director of media relations, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or