(UNDATED) - A pair of Purdue aviation students are racing across the country, just like a famous Purdue instructor used to more than seven decades ago.
Pilot Rachel Borsa and co-pilot Haley Myers are competing in the annual Air Race Classic, a race limited to female pilots. The four-day race began Monday in California and ends in Pennsylvania on Thursday, though the first plane to arrive will not necessarily be the winner. "It's a race against your own air speed. You do a test to figure out what your handicap speed it, and you try to go faster than that," said Borsa by phone from a Tuesday morning stop in Nevada.
The Classic traces its roots to the Women's Air Derby, created in 1929 when women were not allowed to race planes against men. Instrumental in some of the early Air Derby's was Amelia Earhart, who would later join the faculty at Purdue, home to one of the oldest aviation programs in the U.S. It's Borsa's second Classic in the plane - she was co-pilot in last year's race, while Myers moved up this year from her job as ground crew coordinator in 2013.
They are flying a Cirrus SR22, "one of the airplane's Purdue graciously lets us borrow for the air race," Borsa said. "It's awesome because we don't have to rent a plane." The single-engine plane has 310 horsepower and is the fastest plane in the Classic. "On a normal flight, when we're about 60-percent power, it goes about 140 (miles per hour), but we fly at full throttle because it's a race, so we'll be going about 180."
During the race, the planes must remain visible from the ground - no flying above clouds is allowed. That can make for a rough journey - Borsa and Myers were waiting for the weather around the Rocky Mountains to improve when we spoke. "If the clouds aren't high enough, you can't get through the mountains," Borsa said. "You could go around them, but that would slow your race time."
Regardless of how they finish, Borsa has wanted to fly since she was young, and will keep flying no matter where that leads her. "I love the aviation industry. I love the fact that we could fly with airlines, we could go corporate. I am actually interning with Boeing, which I love. It's a side of aviation I never thought I'd be in."
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