From the Exponent: Purdue Women Fly For Title
The Air Race Classic Begins on June 22, 2010
By Joanne Norell
Publication Date: 06/16/2010
For female pilots, the Air Race Classic is a chance to showcase their skills and raise awareness of women in flight.
Lauren Steele and Allie Springer, both seniors in the College of Technology, take this opportunity seriously. Steele and Springer are the pilot and co-pilot, respectively, of this year’s Purdue Air Race team.
“I think it’s just a great opportunity,” Steele said. “Not a lot of people know about it ... Sometimes I even get ‘you’re a pilot?’ They kind of can’t believe that, being women, there are pilots out there who are females.”
“The women’s race aspect of it is kind of cool, because it kind of proves that a woman pilot isn’t any more or less talented than a male pilot,” Springer said.
The women’s air racing concept began in 1929 with the First Women’s Air Derby. Similar derbies were held throughout the thirties and after World War II, took the form of the All Women’s Transcontinental Air Race or the Powder Puff Derby. In 1977, the Air Race Classic became a continuation of the discontinued Powder Puff Derby.
The Classic is open to all women. In 2009, the youngest pilot was 18 and just out of high school. The oldest women were in their mid- to late-80s.
“I’ve learned a lot and you meet a lot of great people along the way,” Steele said. “The race builds your pilot skills and you learn a lot, especially flying in different parts of the country. There’s women from all over the world who race, it’s not just U.S. citizens and such.”
Steele and Springer take inspiration from women who have gone before them, starting with legendary Purdue faculty member Amelia Earhart. For them, Earhart led the way for female aviation, and they hope to be the same kind of inspiration for generations of younger aviators.
“It’s just been neat to see all of these women who have led the way. There’s so much they’ve gone through with discrimination and been told they can’t fly ... but we’re encouraged to do that and pursue that,” Steele said. “It’s neat to be a part of that and I hope that because of our race, I hope, people see or hear about us in the paper, or whatever it may be, and just be an inspiration and encourage young girls to go after their dreams whether it’s something like flying or something that just some people don’t think a women should do.”
“It’s kind of like an awareness that we can do just as much as the males and it’s also kind of cool that you can show that this many women are involved,” Springer said.
Take-off for the Air Race Classic is June 22, but Steele and Springer began their journey to Florida, the starting point, on Sunday. The extra time will give them room for weather, maintenance issues and a tour of sponsor Lockheed Martin headquarters in Dallas.
“We want to have fun and be safe, overall, that’s most important. And if we come out and win the collegiate trophy ... it’d be awesome to get first ... and since they’ve had a collegiate trophy Purdue’s won it the most,” Springer said. “We hope to bring back the trophy and keep it the whole next year until the next year’s race. So we hope to bring it back and put it on a shelf and be proud that we won ... It would be awesome to even get Top 10 but we’ll be happy with anything and we’ll have fun while we’re doing it.”
The Air Race Classic will take three days and span from Florida to Missouri to Maryland. Rather than compete against the speed of others, racers will race against their own handicap, with a speed above the handicap counting for positive points.