Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Spot on: SIU’s Saluki Aces finish second in 2023 Air Race Classic


Trusting their instincts and making smart decisions to overcome difficult weather paid off over the summer for Southern Illinois University Carbondale Aviation’s Saluki Aces Meadow Boden and Graci McDaniel.

The pair finished second — both overall and in the collegiate division — of the 46th transcontinental Air Race Classic — the four-day, 2,334 nautical mile journey from Grand Forks, North Dakota, to Homestead, Florida, June 20-23.  The 2023 event, which honors female aviators, featured 41 teams of competitors of all ages and experience levels this year, including 14 universities.

Racing with a unique handicap and against their own best time, Boden and McDaniel made several decisions during their journey that helped propel them to SIU’s second-highest overall finish in eight years of competing. A team from SIU won both the overall and collegiate title in 2015. Results are available on the Air Race Classic website.


McDaniel, of Pinckneyville, who earned her bachelor’s degree in aviation management in May, had hoped to at least finish third in the collegiate category as Boden and her teammate, Abby Lee, did in 2022.

“Sitting in the awards banquet, we were in shock that we did as well as we did,” she said. “I was never expecting to be in the top 10 of all the racers. We ultimately just focused on not getting penalties and doing our best. I’m still in shock, and it is a major highlight of my life. We couldn’t have done it without each other, and we are so proud to be Salukis!”

Competitors included trainees on Boeing 777s, retired air traffic controllers, fixed base operator (FBO) airport owners and collegiate teams. Competing against women of these different backgrounds is one of Boden’s greatest experiences.

“Placing second among the 41 teams showed that no matter your background, you really can do anything,” said Boden, of Bushnell, a 2022 SIU graduate and certified flight instructor in the program.

Weather posed challenges

The biggest challenge while flying more than 30 accumulated hours was weather. The race’s goal is to beat your own handicap, “which was extremely difficult with the amount of wind we had to encounter,” and major concerns of afternoon thunderstorms in southern Florida, Boden said. The team faced “huge headwinds all week” along with storms in Alabama and Florida, said McDaniel, noting the “smart decisions by flying as low to the ground as we could legally and safely and examining the convective weather carefully.”

“The night before the race deadline, we decided that we would be pleased with simply completing the race. Waiting around for a line of thunderstorms to go through, then quickly making the decision to complete the next leg before more storms came was very challenging but ultimately paid off,” Boden said.


Finding hotels was another challenge, with McDaniel noting that one night they stayed with one of the Auburn University teams in a hangar generously provided by a volunteer at one of the stops.

More than just a race

McDaniel and Boden said they made meaningful connections and friendships with other race participants, event officials and volunteers that will last a lifetime. The event will “always be a home away from home for me,” said McDaniel, adding she gained “an invaluable amount of aviation skills flying over a good chunk of the United States.”

Boden said the race is “so much more than the competition itself,” predicting that she will likely cross paths with many of the women in the future.

“I am so grateful that Meadow was my partner. We worked as a great team to accomplish what we did. We trusted our guts and collaborated to end with a finish that we were not expecting,” McDaniel said, again thanking the aviation program and aviation maintenance and flight line crew for their work.

Another example of program’s excellence

José Ruiz, professor and School of Aviation director, said the work by Boden and McDaniel “speaks to the high level of expertise possessed by our students and flight instructors. It also reflects very positively on the caliber of flight instruction associated with the SIU aviation flight program.

“The School of Aviation is committed to promoting diversity and inclusivity among our student body, instructional staff members and support staff. National recognition of this type showcases and reinforces that commitment.”

This summer, there are 554 undergraduate students in the School of Aviation’s three programs – aviation flight, aviation maintenance and aviation technologies, with 90 of those students being women. Ruiz anticipates both numbers will increase in the fall.



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