Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Mid Year Updates

Mid Year Updates – what is happening in the world of Air Racing?

Mid year is always a difficult time to write my column. So many things are happening, but nothing is “on the record” quite yet. Airplanes are being sold, Crews are moving around, Pilots are changing, and modifications are happening faster than we can monitor.

So, let’s discuss what is solid.

Reno Airshow Performers

The US Navy Blue Angels flying their F-18 Hornets will be at Reno this year. I couldn’t be happier. After several years of both the Thunderbirds and the Snowbirds, it will be a nice change of pace for those of us who are there every day and watch the show multiple times. I would like to thank RARA for making that happen.

Caption= US Navy Blue Angels are returning to Reno this year
Photo Courtesy of Curtis Fowles, Mustangs Mustangs

David Martin, who is sponsored by Breitling, will also be returning to Reno this year. He has a high powered Airshow routine in his Extra 300S. David has a nice background and training from Competition Aerobatics to TX Air Guard, to super Airshow skills. I know you will enjoy his show.
Patty Wagstaff, probably one of the most decorated women in Airshow History, will be joining us this year. She will also be flying the Extra 300S and putting on a dynamic show. This will probably be the first time many of the West Coasters will see Ms Wagstaff. I’m sure they will not be disappointed.

Joining these two superb individual acts will be The Red Eagles, a two-ship formation biplane team. They fly a low and tight show which will likely keep your attention during their show. I’ve seen them before and am very happy to hear they will be joining us this year.

What else can we expect at Reno this year?

Several of the fan favorites have changed hands this year. Dago Red, we discussed last month. But Furias is now in new and very capable hands. Hopefully we will learn more about her changes next month.

Also, Mike Brown’s September Pops Air Race Team has been sold to Rod Lewis. Yes, the same Rod Lewis who purchased the fan favorite, Rare Bear. I guess the best way to make sure you’re in the Gold Race is to buy a few of the Gold Racers.

Caption = Mike Brown’s Gold Racer, September Fury, now owned by Rod Lewis
Photo Courtesy of Curtis Fowles, Mustangs Mustangs

Mr. Lewis also purchased a project known as American Spirit. His goal is said to be establishing several records, like Lyle Shelton and Steve Hinton, Sr. did several years ago. American Spirit will be used for those speed records first, and maybe have a career at Reno afterwards. In my opinion, anything that brings positive press and fan attention to aviation is good for all of us. So, thank you, Mr. Lewis. I hope I get a chance to interview him this year in the off-season before things heat up. Rumor has it we may even see him at PRS this year.

Speaking of PRS, the dates are set and the entry package is already available on the RARA website. If you are considering bringing your aircraft to Reno this year for the first time, you need to attend Pylon Racing School June 17-20, 2009.

Red Bull

The biggest news to Reno Fans that touches on the Red Bull Races is the fate of the much loved P-38 known previously as Lefty Gardners’ White Lightning. She is currently on a boat to Europe to be added to the Red Bull stable in Austria.

For those of us lucky enough to see her before she was shipped, she is a beauty. The Ezell’s did a great job getting her back into immaculate condition. We are sorry to see her go.

Caption = The Red Bull P38 Performed for us at the Nellis Airshow this year.
Photo Courtesy of Curtis Fowles, Mustangs Mustangs

Red Bull Air Races

Red Bull, in an attempt to attract a younger crowd perhaps, has added some new blood in the way of younger pilots. Pete McLeod, Matthias Dolderer, Yoshi Muroya, and Matt Hall are all yes blood adding to the already exciting competition between Paul Bonhomme, Michael Mangold, Kirby Chambliss, last years champion, Hannes Arch, Peter Besenyei among others.

Pete McLeod is a Canadian and will be the youngest pilot to fly in the Red Bull Air Race World Championships. He earned his pilot certification before he was able to drive a car. And now, he is flying in the World Championships at a mere 25 year of age,… sigh, I feel old.

Dolderer is from Germany and followed the success of last year’s champion, Hannes Arch closely. He is looking to make a name for himself this year. Yoshi is from Japan and the first competitor from Asia I can think of to join the group. Matt Hall will be joining the us from Australia.

Red Bull has put together a terrific group of pilots and competitors. I know this will be an exciting year for all of us to watch. They will be returning to San Diego in May and Windsor, Canada in June.


The new kid on the block which we covered a few months ago already had their first race of the season. To no one’s surprise, Zoltan Veres took the win in Al Ain, UAE back in January. Smokey Young, a F1 Driver and Aero GP competitor took a satisfactory 4th in his new aircraft.

This was the first time Smokey was able to perform the Bombing Contest. What a great idea, and sounds like an amazing amount of fun for the pilots and fans alike.

We can only hope that Aero-GP will be able to make a showing here in the states sometime in 2009 or 2010.

Caption=Zoltan Veres wins another trophy
Photo courtesy of Aero-GP and Sly Dog Air Racing

Another kind of Pylon
Photo courtesy of Aero-GP and Sly Dog Air Racing

Well known Reno Racer, CJ Stephens helps out at Aero GP
Photo courtesy of Aero-GP and Sly Dog Air Racing

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Reno Wrap-up -- Merlins and Maydays

The Highlight - Tiger wins!
It is true. Sometimes age and guile win. After an 11 year dry spell, Bill “Tiger” Destefani won his seventh Unlimited National Championship in amazing fashion with his beloved Strega. The Prince, trapped in the body of a Farmer is your Unlimited Champion once again.

This year’s Unlimited Gold was the best in nearly 20 years. I predicted an historic outcome due to the large number of returning champions in the hunt this year, but the races surpassed even my expectations.

To end a final race with two Merlin-powered Mustangs not just still running, but finishing 1st and 2nd was what the fans wanted to see. And having Mike Brown hot in their heels, that is what racing is all about.

It was a long road for Tiger. After his last win in 1997, he had not finished a Gold Race until this year. Different gremlins were causing him strife, but Tigers will always beat gremlins.

He says he is retiring. However, we have heard that before. He says the reins to his Mustang are now in the hands of the new kid, Steven Hinton, Jr. However, he will be there, lurking in the background – making sure Stevo has the right combination of experience that will one day make him an Unlimited National Champion, too.

The long term fans remarked that 1991 was the last time the racing was this exciting. That was the year that the top three finishers in the Gold Unlimited Race on Sunday ALL broke the previous record. Lyle Shelton in his Rare Bear, Tiger in his Strega and Skip Holm in Tsunami were all over 478 mph during that race. For many fans that race still brings chills.

Rob Miller

Dago Red
The new owners of Dago Red must be happy with their 2nd place finish. Dan Martin muscled her around and just couldn’t overtake our leader. He did a magnificent job and I hope to see him again next year piloting Dago Red.

Rare Bear
Other Unlimiteds that weren’t as lucky include Rare Bear’s John Penney. He has great talent and courage – he must have because after visiting with the Rescue Teams after several horrendous Maydays during the week, he still got back in the cockpit for another run.

In talking with Rod Lewis, Rare Bear’s owner, he expressed his disappointment in the performance this year. “She was not running to her full potential this year. We plan a complete debrief session within the next 30 days. I have not had time to debrief yet with my crew chief and race pilots along with other important members of the crew, but it appears that our aircraft is now completely rebuilt and in excellent flying condition; it just needs a good engine to go fast.”

The Rare Bear fans, of which there are many, should be happy to hear that, and to know that despite a difficult year, work is already being planned for 2009.

Voodoo was filled with hope and expectations, only to have the engine let loose on their new pilot, Will Whiteside. The Mayday call goes out and Safety Pilot, CJ Stevens is on Voodoo – “Bob, yes, there is smoke.” And Will’s voice coming back, “Um.. CJ, it’s not Bob, it’s Will. But, I wish it was Bob.” In his first major Mayday at Reno, Will managed perfectly – despondently bringing a sick engine home to the new boss.

Bob Button, owner of Voodoo was hoping for two healthy race engines this year. He got one – and his “go home” engine. So, this gorgeous race plane was relegated to the Bronze Race with his stocker engine. Sad results for Mr. Button – but they learned many things this year and will be back next year.

Team Sanders
Other disappointments for this year include the Sanders’ Argonaut and Dreadnought. Argonaut had a catastrophic failure that resulted in a Mayday – complete with flames – for Superhero, CJ Stevens. I believe I received several grey hairs on that one. I bet CJ did, too.

Dreadnought, after losing 2nd place last year to a deadline infraction, pulled up short again this year, with a less catastrophic failure that resulted in metal being found in the screens. Both of these darlings were tugged away and hidden in a hangar until they could be retrieved another day. This was a sad ending to 2008 for a wonderful racing/flying family.

Unlimited Rookies
Sawbones, the old Southern Cross Sea Fury, was there with her new owner, Robin Crandall, and Sophomore Pilot, Ray Dieckman. The team had their ups and downs during the week – but it was all good when Ray passed three airplanes to win the Silver and bumping to the Gold on Sunday. Robin is still recovering from the experience.

They learned about the quality of people on the ramp – when they needed help, folks like Nelson Ezell, Stu Dawson and Dennis Sanders were there with the expertise. His team is also having a post race debrief in the next few days to decide where they go from here. I certainly hope “where” is “back to Reno in 2009”. Congratulations and Good Luck!

Doug Matthews brought his pristine P-51, The Rebel this year. He knew he was a Bronze runner – but to finish 2nd behind Voodoo, was a great experience and he’ll be back. When I asked him what changes he was planning to his airplane, he said she is already at the shop getting modifications done. I believe we have a new victim of the Racing Bug.

And, our favorite Rookie is none other than Stevo Hinton. In his first year as a Race Pilot, he raced Sparky in the Bronze to finish third. He also qualified in both Lady Jo and Sparky, as well as trying his hand at the Wildcat, Air Biscuit. When he wasn’t wearing a flightsuit, he could be found in the Strega pit making things happen for his friend and mentor, Tiger.

Sport Highlights

John Sharp and his NEMESIS NXT were the hit of the show in Super Sport this year. While Kevin Eldredge in Relentless, George Giboney in his Thunder Mustang, and Mike Dacey in his Questaire Venture (Egg, to the regulars) were all in the hunt earlier in the week, NEMESIS was just that – their nemesis.

Sharp’s qualifying time was an astounding 409 mph, which was 34 mph faster than the next competitor, Dacey. On the final lap of the final race on Sunday, he lapped half the field. It was a truly decisive victory. Congrats to Team NEMESIS and to the Sharps.

Jet Highlights

Astronaut, Curt Brown battled USAF Academy classmate Mike Mangold in the fastest race I’ve ever seen. Curt’s final speed was over 500 mph with Mike at 499 and change. This year, we saw two L-29 Vipers along with a host of L-39s and a beautifully painted Fouga flown by Lee Behel.

T-6 Highlights

Our winner this year was Ken Dwelle in Tinkertoy at 244 plus mph, a new T-6 Record. When asked how he got that much speed this year, Ken was quick to point out that Reno moved two pylons, to create a more optimal line on the east side of the course. That fact, plus they ran a different prop set up this year. Otherwise, we’ll leave the rest of the increase to magic pixie dust and good weather.

Whatever it was, the T-6 racing was some of the most exciting in years. Al Goss in Warlock took second and John Zayac in McDonald Racer rounded out the top three.

Nick Macy, last year’s winner pulled up with a Mayday during the final Gold Race on Sunday with a lost counter-weight on his prop. From the time he said MAYDAY to the time his wheels were on the ground, no more than 10 seconds had elapsed. I bet that plane was shaking like an earthquake. Glad that Nick brought her down safely.

And before I forget, the Warlock Party was the best ever. Thank you, Al and Anita!

Biplane Highlights

Tom Aberle has been racing Biplanes every year since 1964. And, he won again – with a new race record. His Phantom is just a sight to behold running around the pylons with that “it slices, it dices” propeller. Tom is a true professional and a true showman and an asset to the Biplane Class. Congrats to Team Phantom.

Biplanes lined up in hangar>

For the first year since I’ve been racing, the Biplanes didn’t have enough entries to fill the field. So, using our team work and sense of play, we gather three full fields with volunteers and alternate pilots. So, I finished in my spot in Silver (8th) and I filled in at the back of the Bronze race also. So, I have two trophies, one for the house and one for the hangar.

Daddy Dasher was there this year, for the first time. He was able to see two of my races and meet about 2000 people who all told stories about me. Thanks, Guys! I believe he will be back next year, I hope so.


Last year’s winner, Endeavor was sold over the winter. Yet that didn’t stop her from reviving her winning ways with her new owner, Steve Senegal. Gary Davis, Doug Bodine and Smokey Young made the fight for first place in the Gold a very interesting endeavor (pun intended).

With lots of new pilots and new planes on the horizon, IF1 looks to be a happening class again. Rookie Pilots Thom Richard, finished 7th in the Gold and Dan Peters in Route 66 (previously known as Pooder) came in 2nd in the Bronze. Sadly, another Rookie, John Kokshoorn, new owner of Outrageous and our lone Aussie, wasn’t able to finish the Gold race on Sunday due to an engine hiccup. But, they will all be back next year, I’m certain.

Final comments

For true racers, only a few days go by between the end of one race week and the start of planning for the next year. Already several teams are planning their changes in preparation for more excitement next year.

Furias has been sold to someone who has great plans for her future. We know that Doug Matthews is already making changes to his race plane. The new owners of Dago Red, The Costo Family, are busy making strategic moves for their mighty Mustang.

It only gets better from here. Congrats to all the winners and all the racers!

And a moment of silence for my friend, Erica Simpson, who we lost in a testing incident early in the week. Blue skies and tailwinds forever.

Marilyn Dash

AERO GP… the new kid on the block…

Regular readers of my column know about the National Championship Air Races held in Reno each year and about Red Bull Air Racing. Well, there is a new kid on the block and it’s called Aero GP and they are taking Europe and Asia by storm.

Aero GP is the newest aviation sports series. National Championship Air Racing at Reno is closed course pylon racing, based on qualifying time and speeds. Checkered flag = winner. And there are approximately 8 airplanes flying the course at the same time. Most of you are fans of Reno and have seen this many times – or at least read about it. Currently, there are 6 different divisions including International Formula 1, Biplanes (me), Sport, T-6, Jets and Unlimited (Piston).

Red Bull Air Racing is single plane timed racing. Their series also includes some aerobatic maneuvers to fly the course. This series involves high performance aerobatic aircraft, usually Edge 540, Extra 300 series or the new MXS.

Aero GP combines several types of piloting skills from racing, to aerobatics to dog-fighting and other barnstorming type events. They call it the “Ultimate Battle for Air Supremacy”. Most of their exhibitions are three or four days long and are part of an overall Airshow with several other acts going during the weekend. The three primary disciplines in each competition will decide the annual "World Champion Flying Ace”.

Air Racing: Imagine pylon racing, similar to the Reno Air Races – but with aerobatic airplanes, six on the course at a time. Imagine all of this on a course about half the size of the Reno F1/Biplane Course. They make the course shorter to keep the action in front of the crowd at all times. This clearly gives an advantage to the aviators who have done some Air Racing in their past.

Aerobatics: In other Worldwide Unlimited Aerobatic competition, there is a four-minute freestyle event. This allows these highly trained aerobatic competitors to really show their abilities in an Airshow style routine. The second discipline of the Aero GP contest mirrors this four-minute freestyle giving a nod to the aerobatic competitors and Airshow performers in the ranks.

Air Combat: Yes, Dog-fighting or BFM (Basic Fighter Maneuvers) just like in the movies. This competition pairs two pilots in a competitive dog-fight. The pilots take to the skies in an attempt to out-maneuver, hunt down and shoot each other out of the sky! There are two segments of two minutes each, and the winners move on to the next heat. This segment of the contest clearly gives an advantage to the military pilots in the group.

At the next few events, they are also looking to add a bombing competition again – where they will attach plastic bombs to the bottom of the aircraft and provide some sort of cable to release the bombs over their targets. You have to admit, this sounds very interesting.

Winners are based on points. Points are scored in each competition. The pilot who earns the most points wins the event. No checkered flag and there is no clear winner until the end.

Compare and Contrast.

The biggest difference between Reno, Red Bull and Aero GP is the multi discipline aspect. Also, while Reno tends to center around the machine, Aero GP really focuses on the overall piloting skill.

The primary difference between Red Bull and Aero GP is Aero GP has six airplanes racing against each other rather than a single aircraft against a clock. Aero GP throws in the Red Bull aerobatic element by having the free style competition. The air-to-combat is very unique and also seems to be the crowd favorite.

The pylon race is conducted in a manner similar to the races at Reno. The field is limited to six airplanes which enter the course via an airborne start. The fastest qualifiers get choice of position as at Reno. The race lasts 10 laps and is flown around 4 inflatable pylons.

In Constanta, Romania last summer, the course and pylons were over the water (Black Sea). The pylons were large inflatable buoys. The front and back stretch of the course are about 1/4 of a kilometer with a 300 meter radius turn on either end. This makes for a real tight course, much tighter than Reno and really favors aerobatic airplanes. The tight course keeps the airplanes well in sight of the crowd so the race is very exciting to watch. Just like Reno the racers fly as low as possible and tend to stay tight on the pylons.

The free style aerobatic competition is an unscripted 4 minute display. Each competitor enters the box and performs for the crowd. Judging is done based on crowd appeal. At Romania last year several people from the crowd were actually chosen to assist in scoring. Emphasis is on showmanship and this provides the crowds with a great display.

The third event, air-to-air combat is flown one versus one. The competitors draw names from a hat to create the pairings. Elimination draws down to a single airplane. Combat begins with the competitors entering the box in formation. They then separate and begin the fight at high aspect. Whoever gains the advantage and scores three hits (ground scored – by judges) wins the engagement. You must close to within 100 meters of your opponent to score a valid hit. Like the other events the dogfight is done right in front of the crowd. The hard deck or minimum altitude is 100 feet so the action gets low to the wave tops and very exciting.

Jeff Zaltmann is the Director of Flying Aces UK, Aero GP’s parent company. He met Smokey Young at the 2007 Reno Air Races. Smokey is currently the President of the International Formula 1 class at Reno. In 2007, Jeff invited Smokey to join the 2008 Constanta Challenge in Romania and to give some input on Air Racing for the series. I met Smokey in 2003 at PRS (rookie school) and have spent lots of time with him over the years at Reno and chatting off-season.

With over 25 years of flying and 7,700 flight hours under his belt, Smokey began his career in the U.S. Air Force flying the F-111 tactical strike bomber on operational tours and as a flight instructor and examiner. After the military, Smokey became a pilot for a major U.S. airline, commanding Boeing 727s and 757s, then turned his attention to air racing in 2003.

Smokey is the President of the International Formula 1 Air Racing association, which has been around for over 60 years. In this role, Smokey and his staff are responsible for coordination of racing policies, procedures, rules, technical standards, pilot training and qualifications, as well as liaising directly with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on regulatory and safety matters. Smokey also manages and pilots a top team, Sly Dog, at the Reno Air Races National Championships in the F1 class, where he raced in the Gold Race the last two years.

In addition to air racing, Smokey spent several years as an air combat instructor at America’s leading civilian air combat training and experience centre, flying Extra 300s and Marchetti SF-260s in a broad range of tactical dog fighting maneuvers and aerobatics. His additional instruction experience continues – not only as a flight instructor – but in the classroom, at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, CA, where he teaches university level courses covering aerodynamics, regulations, air transport and aircraft systems. He is also a graduate of Norwich University.

This experience makes him a good choice for Aero GP. And he is working with Jeff and the Flying Aces on Air Racing and Safety issues.

I interviewed Smokey for this story and he shared with me details about his first experience with Aero GP in Romania. His current team, Sly Air Racing, only owned the formula 1 racer at the time he was invited to participate, Jeff arranged for him to race a Harmon Rocket II owned by Kevin Armstrong. Team Dog (Smokey, plus Rob and Nancy Sobczak) flew to Romania in mid June of 2008 to attend the event.

Smokey said, “Racing in the 2008 Constanta Challenge will forever be one of the highlights of my racing and flying career. Constanta is a beautiful resort city on the Black Sea. Accommodations were first class and Aero GP took incredible care of its racers.”

He had never flown a Harmon Rocket before so UK aerobatic champion, Mark Jefferies, gave him a quick checkout. From the beginning it was apparent the Rocket would not be as competitive in the series. The airplane was beautiful but ill equipped for the type of flying the event required. Even so Smokey was happy to be there and thankful for the ride. “I think I would have race a Cessna 152 just to be part of the event”, he later said.

The other racers have equally stellar aviation careers. Zoltan Veres of Hungary, holder of the Guinness Record for most consecutive aileron rolls, Peter Podlunsek of Croatia an establish Airshow pilot, UK aerobatic champion Gerry Cooper and the previously mentioned Mark Jefferies as well as Airshow pilot Andy Bickmore, also from the UK. The other competitors flew Extras, Sukhois, Yaks and a CAP 232.

Aero GP Currently has 4 events scheduled throughout Europe and Asia for next year. They are eagerly looking to add a North American city to their schedule. So, look for more information in this column, in the coming months.

More on Sly Dog Air Racing and Aero GP…

Sly Air Racing has been racing at Reno since 2007. Their Formula 1 racer, Sly Dog is a Gold competitor. They had considered expanding into another racing class at Reno and had even been in negotiations to purchase a highly competitive Sport Class racer. However, after Constanta they decided to reconsider their future. Aero GP racing was fun, exciting and very different. So, they purchased an Extra 300L and begin racing with Aero GP rather than expand into another class at Reno. The 300L was chosen because it allows Smokey to take others for rides, when the airplane isn't racing.

When we spoke this week, he was preparing to ship his Extra to the Al Ain Airshow in the United Arab Emirates. This race, to be held in January, will be Aero GPs first of the season. Smokey will fly to Europe and compete in a total of four scheduled events for this year for the Aero GP series.

For more on Aero GP go to

Finally, for a great show on the 2008 Constanta Challenge, go to and click on "Romania 2."

Until next time,

Fly low, fly fast, turn left.

Marilyn Dash

Ruby Red Racing

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Dreams, Machines and Icons

Sometimes, childhood dreams do come true. At least, for Greg and Ryan Costo they do. For many years, Greg’s father, a WW2 pilot, was a pylon judge for the National Championship Air Races in Reno, NV. Because of his father’s involvement flying aircraft for the Army Air Corp and later the Strategic Air Command it was a given that this love would be handed down from father to son. When Ryan came along, the tradition continued. Three generations all going to Reno in September and watching their favorite racers speed through sky.

We forward fast a many years to when means and opportunity collide. Dago Red, the beautiful Merlin equipped P-51 Mustang is for sale. Terry Bland has decided to sell. Good business sense has provided the means and Greg and Ryan form Dream Machines, LLC and are on their way.

For those of you who do not know Dago Red, she is a P-51D, rebuilt in 1981 by Bill “Tiger” Destefani as the modified racer #4. Since then, she has been owned by Frank Taylor, Alan Preston, David Price and just prior to the Costo Family, Terry Bland. She won her first year at Reno, 1982, with Ron Hevle in the pilot seat. After several years of maydays, she was back in the winner’s circle in 1998 with Bruce Lockwood at the helm. She then won with Alan Preston and later Skip Holm and currently owns the fastest race speed in Reno History at just over 507 mph.

In recent years, she has been commanded by Dan Martin. If you remember the races in 2005, you probably remember Dan flying his mostly stocker P-51D, Ridge Runner III to a very competitive Gold Final and sadly coming in with a mayday, much to the screaming crowds dismay. He is a fan favorite and a RACER’S RACER, a well respected stick.

Dan raced Dago last year. In the closest qualifying session in history, he came out on top. After incredibly exciting racing, he and Dago came in 2nd to Tiger and Strega, with a very respectable 474+mph race speed.

What does the future hold for Dago? The Costo Family has great plans for their racer. She is currently undergoing a facelift and will be sporting new paint, yes – the KELP IS GONE! Some minor speed mods will be done and she should be back to her winning ways in September with Dan there to guide her once again.

American Icon Tours

But, that is only part of the story. Dream Machines was not just about Greg’s and Ryan’s dreams. They want to share their dreams with as many people as possible. Not just through a fan base for Dago Red, but by actually bringing the Mustang and the people together in what they are calling the American Icon Tour.

From their website, The American Icon Tour was conceived to display, preserve, and continue the Mustang's legacy for future generations. Our mission is to share our aircraft on a nationwide tour that will allow the general public to observe and learn about the aircraft first hand, as well as provide the unique opportunity for our guests to take a flight in these magnificent machines.

To this end, they have purchased not just Dago Red, but also Bernie’s Bo, Three of Hearts, Two TF-51s and an AT-6. Bernie’s Bo has a distinguished past. Sold as surplus from McClellan AFB in February 1958, she found her way to Bob Love, Famous WWII Mustang Ace. Bob Love flew her in Air Shows for many years. After he died in early 1986 and the airplane was sold to NFL Great, Russ Francis. The airplane became famous again when a You Tube Video of a Landing Incident with last owner hit the internet. It was then purchased by the American Icon Team in early 2008 and is currently under restoration.

Three of Hearts was recovered from the Dominican Republic. Acquired in 2003, P-51D Mustang was rebuilt to flying condition as a 352nd Fighter Group Blue Noser carrying the nose art Three of Hearts.

They are very excited to talk about the upcoming two week launch of the American Icon Tour which will coincide with the Indianapolis 500 over Memorial Day Weekend. The Tour will be there, giving rides, providing fly-bys and sharing in a great American Tradition.

Flight School

The final piece of the puzzle is American Icon Tours Flight Training. It wasn’t enough to enable people to see them, touch them, and ride in them. They also wanted to offer people the opportunity to learn to FLY them. To that end, they have purchased, at last count, two TF-51s which are the trainers, basically dual-control Mustangs. These two aircraft, coupled with their AT-6, will enable them to train Warbird enthusiasts to actually fly these beautiful machines.

There are not that many places in the world which allow training at this level. There is one on the East Coast; this will be the first school dedicated to Warbird Instruction on the West Coast. A great idea and a great chance to really touch the lives of their fans.

While the Airshow and Tour dates aren’t concrete at the time of print, check back on their website.

The Costa’s have surrounded themselves with some of the best people and aircraft in the world. Triple Ace, CE “Bud” Anderson is a friend and a mentor to them, Dan Martin, David Teeters, Tony Banta, Daryl Bond and many others have shared their knowledge and enthusiasm.

Final Thoughts

Special thanks to Greg and Ryan Costo for making us feel like part of the American Icon Tours Family. They have been very open to discussing their dreams and goals. I am proud to call them friends. Please check out for more information about the tours and the locations and dates.

Thank you to WW2 Triple Ace, Bud Anderson for his heroism, his stories and his friendship. It was a pleasure making your acquaintance and I look forward to many more hours of wide-eyed listening. More information about this remarkable man is available at

Also, thank you to Rick Pisio for allowing the use of his one of his photos in this column and for his long term friendship. His website is

Most importantly, deep appreciation goes to my friend, Curtis Fowles, for his labor of love known as A long time fan of the Mustang, Curtis started this website many years ago and has kept track of the lineage of each Mustang Survivor. He has kindly provided photographs for my column and has always been available to answer questions about “the aircraft that changed the course of a war". Thank you!

Fly Low, Fly Fast, Turn Left

Marilyn Dash
Ruby Red Racing


Caption= Bernie’s Bo, was owned and flown by Bob Love
Credit = Curtis Fowles

Caption=Dago Red has always been a competitive racer
Credit = Curtis Fowles

Caption = Yes, friends – the Kelp is GONE!
Credit = Curtis Fowles

Caption = At 507 mph, it is currently the world’s fastest Mustang
Credit = Curtis Fowles

Caption = Ryan and Greg Costo with Triple Ace, Bud Anderson
Credit = Rick Pisio, RWP Photography