Indiana State University Newsroom

Six female aviators from Indiana State in this year's Air Race Classic

June 12, 2015

For pilots, nothing on Earth - or above it - compares with flying.

"It's an amazing feeling. It's you up in the air. There are no stoplights; there's no traffic. It's very nice. I love it," said Chelsea Noel.

It's a comment that could have come from any of five Indiana State University aviation students and one instructor who will enjoy 2,200 nautical miles of airborne freedom during the 39th annual Air Race Classic. The event is set to zigzag from Fredericksburg, Va. to Fairhope, Ala. June 22-25.Noel, a professional aviation flight technology major from Fort Wayne, will be the copilot for this year's Indiana State entry in the race, a Diamond DA40, after being a pilot in last year's race.

Serving as copilot actually means more to her, she said.

"(As copilot), I am responsible for making sure that all radio frequencies are correct," she said. "I made a mistake last year so now it's really putting me on my ‘A game' this year to make sure that we all are really working together as a team. It broadens everyone's horizons. This is something that is bigger than just one person."

Kayleigh Bordner, a junior from Flora, served as a teammate last year and is looking forward to taking over the pilot's duties this year in the all-women cross country race.

"I'm very much a history buff," she said, after noting the race traces its origins to the Women's Air Derby, often dubbed the "Powder Puff Derby," that took place during the National Air Races in 1929. "It means a lot to me to continue that legacy and tradition of an all women air race and to be able to participate in something that is bigger than just us."

Nationally, only about 6 percent of pilots are female. Bordner said she hopes the Air Race Classic inspires other women and girls to take an interest in aviation.

Brittany Danko, who just wrapped up her freshman year by receiving a Challenge Coin from the Federal Aviation Administration in recognition of her skills as a pilot, will round out the three-member ISU team.

"It is truly an honor to be able to compete in the Air Race Classic alongside some very smart and talented girls. I've worked very hard and I am very happy that I was chosen," Danko said. "My goal is to learn as much as I can and of course beat Purdue but I would also like to gain more knowledge and become a better and safer pilot than I already am."

Danko will fly the plane to the start of the race and back to Terre Haute, will keep a constant check on the weather during the race and serve as "another set of eyes" for the pilot and copilot to help ensure a smooth race. Cathi Sweatt of Terre Haute will pilot her own aircraft, a Cessna 172, as part of a team that includes Indiana State flight instructor Melanie Abel as copilot and senior professional aviation student Katelyn Walters of Rockville as the third teammate.

A non-traditional student who takes classes online, Sweatt has been flying for six years and followed her children in pursuing a college degree.

"I used to live next to Sky King Airport and I loved the airplanes," she said. "My mom would take us over to watch the planes land and take off. I was inspired at a young age."

Sweatt competed with Abel in the 2012 Air Race Classic. While winning the overall race or the college division would be nice, the main goal, she said, is to "just have a clean run. Do everything right. Be successful and make smart moves and smart decisions."

Sweatt praised the establishment of a university-run flight school three years ago and said she is excited to be part of a growing aviation program at Indiana State.

Aviation remains an area where the number of female(s) is small and Sweatt said the Air Race Classic is a good way of showing women what they can accomplish.

"There are college teams entered as well as people in their 60s and 70s," she said. "It's very important to inspire others."

After hearing Sweatt talk about her experience with the Air Race Classic, Walters said she is looking forward more than ever to being part of the event and meeting other women from all over the country who share common interests.

"I know so many females because I'm at ISU and I'm excited to be able to meet so many more," she said.

Abel said this year marks a milestone for Indiana State's participation in the race because the university's official team consists solely of students.

"We're hoping that we can just transition students through in the future," she said. "I'm really glad that I'm going as well and can give them what guidance is needed, but during those four days we are competitors."

Seventeen collegiate teams are competing in the 2015 race and the total number of entries is 54. Victory in this race doesn't necessarily go to the first plane to complete each leg. Each plane is assigned a handicap speed and team members are challenged to develop the best flying strategy based on wind speeds and weather patterns.

With much of this year's course in the Midwest, Abel feels good about the prospects for the Indiana State teams. There are stops in Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Missouri, including one at Lawrenceville-Vincennes International Airport.

"This is our area. This is what we are familiar with," she said. "We feel comfortable and we are ready to race."

Follow the Indiana State University Air Race Classic Team at

Photo: - Indiana State University aviation students Chelsea Noel (left), Kayleigh Bordner, and Brittany Danko pose in the Diamond DA40 plane they will fly in the 2015 Air Race Classic. (ISU/Rachel Keyes)

Photo: - Kayleigh Border of Flora (left) will pilot this year's Indiana State University plane in the Air Race Classic cross-country race for female aviators while Chelsea Noel of Fort Wayne will serve as copilot. (ISU/Rachel Keyes)

Photo: - Kayleigh Bordner of Flora (left), Chelsea Noel of Fort Wayne and Brittany Danko of Corydon comprise this year's Indiana State University Team in the Air Race Classic, an all-female, cross-country air race set for June 22-25. (ISU/Rachel Keyes)

Contact: Melanie Abel, instructor, aviation technology department, Indiana State University, 812-237-2660 or

Writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3743 or