Indiana State University Newsroom

Sycamore aviators take to the air in search of a win

June 2, 2014


After a three year absence, a trio of aviators from Indiana State University is preparing to make its mark in an annual transcontinental race for female pilots.

The Air Race Classic begins June 16 and will take the trio on a 2,692-mile race across the mid-section of the United States. It begins this year in Concord, Calif. and ends June 19 in New Cumberland, Pa. Indiana State is one of 50 teams involved in the race. Eleven colleges and universities have teams in the field.

Senior aviation major Chelsea Noel, sophomore aviation major Kayleigh Bordner and their instructor Melanie Abel are hoping to finish in the top 10 in their return to racing. The Sycamores participated for three years, 2009-2011, taking top collegiate honors in 2009.

Abel flew in 2011, the last time Indiana State competed in the race.

"I was so overwhelmed when I flew in 2011," she said. "I'm sharing what I learned from that experience with Chelsea and Kayleigh. It's a demanding race."

The demands of the race are even more demanding when you consider the route.

"We're going coast to coast," Abel said. "We will be hand-flying it all the way. The challenges will be many - weather, wind, high terrain and traffic."

"I have never flown across the USA for an extended period of time," Noel, a student from Fort Wayne, said. "This will push my body physically and mentally."

Despite participating in the race previously, even Abel will have a new experience this year.


"I've never had three people in the cockpit," she said. "It's actually going to lessen the load on each of us."


The annual Air Race Classic, first flown in 1929, includes a race route approximately 2,400 miles in length 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.

The race serves as reminder of the role women play in aviation. While female pilots such as Amelia Earhart and Willa Brown have earned a place in history, only 6 percent of pilots nationwide are female. At Indiana State, only 19 of the school's 229 aviation majors are women.

"The number of female pro-pilot majors is smaller than that," Bordner, who is a pro-pilot major said.

The trio of aviators is looking to begin a flying tradition at Indiana State and to show young women there's a place for them in the skies.

"As a freshman, I was honored to be asked to be a part of this team," Bordner said. "A lot of girls don't think about aviation. I want to help mentor other girls interested in aviation careers."

In preparation for the race, the team went on a handicap flight on a short pre-determined course, which determined the airplane's maximum true airspeed at a density altitude of 6,000 feet.

"If you go faster than that posted speed, you gain points," Abel said. "If you travel slower than that speed, you lose points.

To better understand the race, Noel reached out to former Air Race pilots to learn about their experience and to seek advice. The Fort Wayne senior has also gone online, taking courses on how to address the challenges that lie ahead.


Bordner, a Flora, Ind. native, has begun preparing for the adventure by familiarizing herself with the route.


"One weekend I scouted Iowa City to Danville, Ill.," said Bordner. "Another weekend I scouted from Danville to Athens, Ohio."

Bordner was looking at various things - big cities, terrain, airspace that they will need to navigate and landmarks they can use to judge their distance to the airport where they will be landing.


During the race, Bordner will be monitoring weather and traffic as well as providing updates on the team's progress via social media.


"This race is about pushing limits and knowing your limits," said Border, who works as a dispatcher with Indiana State's Flight Academy.

Noel, who earned her flight instructor certificate in May, will be the primary pilot with Abel serving as backup and monitoring the radio.

"The great thing about the race starting in California is that we can fly the race route in reverse out there," Abel said. "We'll learn going out there while finalizing tasks. That's to our advantage."

There's more to the race than just jumping into the Diamond DA-40 on June 16 to fly cross-country. The trio of aviators will leave Terre Haute June 9 to attend meetings, safety briefings and the have their aircraft undergo inspection.

The aircraft will become a classroom during the race, allowing Noel and Bordner to gain valuable hands-on experience they can use throughout their professional aviation career.

"We'll sharpen our decision-making skills," Bordner said, adding the race is the perfect setting to learn real-life skills such as crew management, teamwork, long range weather forecasting and fuel management.

The race provides networking opportunities for students.

"There are all kinds of people with all kinds of backgrounds involved in this, so it's a great way for our students to network," Abel said. "Some teams do it for fun, but for others, this race is serious business."

Follow the flying Sycamores during the race by going to their Facebook page (  ).

Contact: Melanie Abel, Aviation Technology, 812-237-8200

Writer: Paula Meyer, ISU Communications and Marketing, 812-237-3783 or  



Story Highlights

The Air Race Classic begins June 16 and will take the trio on a 2,692-mile race across the mid-section of the United States. It begins this year in Concord, Calif. and ends in New Cumberland, Pa. Indiana State is one of 50 teams involved in the race.

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