Elizabeth Keller and Madison Taylor are embarking on the race of their young lifetimes.
The Middle Tennessee State University senior aerospace professional pilot majors and self-proclaimed “Barnstorming Babes” left Murfreesboro Airport Wednesday (June 13), bound for Sweetwater, Texas, and the June 19 start of the four-day Air Race Classic.
The event is the longest running all-women pilots transcontinental air race. MTSU senior Gabriella “Ella” Lindskoug and aerospace alumna Jordan Cantrell competed and placed 26th overall in 2017 and became the first pilots from MTSU to finish. They are competing again this year.
After raising about $12,000 from sponsors, family and friends, yard sale and Facebook page GoFundMe account to help finance the endeavor, Taylor, 22, of Franklin, Tennessee, and formerly from Houston, Texas, and Keller, 20, from Maryville, Tennessee, are over-the-top ready to spread their wings and soar.
“We’re very excited,” said Taylor. “… It’s more of ecstatic and pumped. We are ready to get there. We’ve heard some of the other women are crazily competitive. We have no idea what to expect so we’re going to make it up as we go along.”
“We are ready for a different type of experience,” added Keller. “This will help us grow as pilots.”
Keller played a major role in helping land the plane they will be using, a new Cessna Skyhawk 172 as part of Textron Aviation Inc.’s Top Hawk program. She and fellow flight instructor Harry Arcamudi submitted an application, one of five nationwide chosen by Textron officials. MTSU aerospace receives use of the custom-branded plane until the end of September.
Nick Lenczycki, MTSU Flight Operations program manager, said Taylor and Keller “have been working very hard, preparing for this trip.
“They have worked tirelessly finding sponsors, promoting the event and aggressively planning to compete,” he added. “They have put in the time and effort. They will represent MTSU well.”
The duo will log about 4,000 miles and 40 hours round trip by the time they return to Murfreesboro. The Air Race Classic, which stopped in Murfreesboro in 2016, features nine stops along the route that zig-zags to the north and then to the east, ending in Maine.
They had to pack for 12 days’ travel. Apparel includes four matching outfits. They have to plan for banquets, a hiring fair, other scheduled events and flying without air conditioning.
Of utmost importance is safety. They will not fly when it’s cloudy or overcast and can only fly from sunrise to sunset.
Taylor’s parents, Mary Beth and Mark Taylor of Franklin, took them to breakfast Wednesday morning and plan to meet them at a stop along the way. Mary Beth Taylor is a flight attendant with United Airlines.
Keller’s mother, Shanda Keller of Maryville, plans to meet them at the Ohio stopover. Other family and friends will greet them at most of the other stops. Elizabeth Keller’s grandfather, Barney Evans, was in the Air National Guard in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Sponsors include Kelmont Farms Inc., Murfreesboro Aviation, Xpress Aircraft Maintenance, Pet Goat Farm, Open Roads Media and MTSU aerospace.