WEST LAFAYETTE | Amanda Keck’s love of flying soared five years ago during her first flight from Griffith Airport.
During that flight — a 16th birthday gift from her mother — the Crown Point resident discovered her future as a commercial airline pilot.
“From the moment I took off, I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” said Keck, an incoming senior majoring in professional flight technology at Purdue University. “It made me more focused on school so I could get into the program at Purdue.”
Keck took off from the Purdue University Airport in West Lafayette on Wednesday morning as pilot of an advanced Cirrus SR22 to compete in the Air Race Classic, a women only, cross-country race that traces its roots back to the Amelia Earhart era.
Keck and co-pilot Rachel Borsa, a junior from Erie, Pa., are one of 14 collegiate teams competing with 33 other two-woman aviation teams in the air race that departs Tuesday from Pasco, Wash. The three-day race crisscrosses the country with eight stops before finishing in Fayetteville, Ark.
The competition was started by female pilots, including Earhart, because women weren’t allowed to compete with male pilots in races, Keck said. Purdue recruited Earhart to work at the university to encourage co-eds to pursue nontraditional careers.
Keck is the first Purdue competitor to fly the new, faster airplane donated by a Purdue alumnus to help students earn their high-performance endorsement. It’s equipped with an iPad that Keck wears on her knee and that features charts, live radar weather reports and Skype.
“This Cirrus climbs like a rocket, which will help since more than half the race is over mountains,” Keck said. “It’s about 50 percent faster than the old Piper Warrior II (flown by Purdue teams for the last 10 years).”
Although women in aviation have come a long way since Earhart’s day, Keck said there’s still a shortage of females in the field.
“That’s why the race is so important,” she said. “Of the 60 students in the professional flight technology program at Purdue, only two are women. We started out with more, but they dropped out.”
During her time away from studies, Keck works for Eagle Aircraft at the Porter County Airport in Valparaiso to build up her flight hours.