IRON MOUNTAIN - Iron Mountain native and Purdue University graduate Chantel Steele participated in her second Air Race Classic, taking two first place honors.
Pilot Steele and her co-pilot Amanda Keck represented Purdue University in the annual all-women, cross-country flight competition. They won first place prizes for piloting the fastest Piper aircraft and for being the fastest team in the first leg of the race.
Forty-nine teams competed. Despite Piper being one of the slowest planes in the race, Steele and Keck placed 23rd overall.
The 2012 Air Race Classic took place from June 19 to 22. It covered approximately 2,700 miles from Lake Havasu City, Ariz. to Batavia, Ohio.
"It's like a crash course because you're going over mountains, flat land, then dealing with lake effect weather," Steele explained. "You learn more in four days than in the entire time you've been flying."
Race routes change each year. Each is about the same distance and includes 10 stops over four days.
Steele said that every leg of the 2012 race was bumpy. A thunderstorm in Kansas delayed Steele and Keck for almost 10 hours on one day.
In 2011, Steele participated on the Purdue team as the co-pilot. She was part of the ground crew, which assists the flight team in planning and strategy, in 2009 and 2010.
Steele said that she became interested in flight long before her enrollment at Purdue University.
"I wanted to see if I could do it," she said. "I thought it would be cool."
Steele is the daughter of John and Laurie Steele of Iron Mountain. She graduated from a home school program in 2008, then graduated from Purdue University in 2012 with a degree in professional flight.
The Air Race Classic started in 1977 to carry on the tradition of the discontinued All Women's Transcontinental Air Race, also known as the Powder Puff Derby. That makes the Classic a direct descendent of the women-only race founded by Purdue career counselor Amelia Earhart, said James Schenke, Purdue University media liaison.
Earhart, an American aviation pioneer, joined the Purdue aviation department in 1935, two years before disappearing over the central Pacific Ocean during an attempt to make a circumnavigational flight of the globe.
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