Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Two Different Futures 

Last month we talked about what will happen next with the Air Races and the Racers. I mentioned that one of the Race Planes was rumored to be for sale. Well, it has been confirmed that Bob Button has decided to sell Voodoo and move on.

I've known Bob for many years and have seen his passion for Air Racing peak, and then start to wane.  At one time, he was racing his L39 in the Jet Class and Voodoo in the Unlimited. He had the world’s biggest smile on his face and was driven to win.

Since he purchased the plane, she has been raced by many pilots including Bob Hannah, Sherman Smoot, Matt Jackson, and Button himself. She was plagued by jumped starts, deadline cuts, blown engines and the infamous Bob Hannah trim tab incident of 1998.

Will Whiteside and Voodoo
Credit: Anthony Taylor 

In 2008, he took off his helmet and handed the job to Will Whiteside. Will campaigned Voodoo in 2008 to a First Place Bronze finish after the engine had to be changed mid week. In 2009, Will qualified fifth and ended up with a DNF in the Sunday Gold Race. At this point Bob was ready to win, he wanted that one last chance to take it all.  

The winds of 2010 cancelled the Unlimited Gold race, Voodoo was stuck with the 8th place finished based on a DNF on Saturday. Bob said, okay – one more year. Although, I believe if we raced that Sunday, he would have made the decision one year earlier.

2011 was to be the year for Voodoo. He had the team, he had the engine program and he had the pilot. The story had it this way: it would be Strega vs. Voodoo – Merlin vs. Merlin – Young Gun vs. Young Gun. But, with the events of Friday’s race which cancelled the rest of the season, Bob finally decided that this was it.

The bottom line is this - there is a wonderful aircraft, with a great pedigree which has been plagued by bad luck, wind, timing, etc., over the years. But, it has a great crew and it’s ready to go. If there was ever a “Turnkey Air Racing Operation” – this is it. If you have a couple million dollars lying around and want to be in the Unlimited Gold, I have a team to show you!

The Taj-Ma-Tent can be part of the sale!
Credit: Bruce Croft

I would like to wish Bob Button the best of luck with whatever he chooses to do in the future. He has been an entertaining character and a faithful participant in the races for many years. He has put together a loyal team and fan base. The Purple Princess should race again.

Will Whiteside and Steadfast

And while we are talking about Will Whiteside, he has decided to focus on watching other records fall during our off-season.

In October, Will took his YAK 3U, “Steadfast” to Wendover, UT – near the Bonneville Salt Flats to attempt a new 3km speed record. The previous record was set in 2002 by the Howard Hughes designed H1 replica Racer. And prior to that, was “unofficially” held by Howard Hughes himself in the original H1. This is for C-1e, Landplanes with takeoff weight between 5,000 – 5,600 pounds.

Howard Hughes set the record in September 1935 on a course near Santa Ana, CA. His speed of 352.322 mph was an aviation marvel for the time. If you have ever seen the movie, The Aviator, you saw the Hollywood version of the record attempt. Unfortunately, Hughes checked the wrong weight category for his plane, and the time was never “official”.  Hughes went on to set additional records, actually filling the paperwork in correctly.

Steadfast's record breaking flight
Used with permission from Team Steadfast

Jim Wright built the replica H-1 in Cottage Grove, OR. It was so close to the original the FAA actually gave it Serial #2. You may have seen Wright and his H-1 at airshows around the country in 2002-2003. On September 13, 2002, he flew to a new speed record (in type), of 304 mph. Sadly, Jim and the replica H-1 were lost in a crash over Wyoming in August of 2003.

Will destroyed the record by over 100 mph. On the first day, his time was 407 mph. The following day they went 416 mph. Many of the Steadfast team were on hand to lend their assistance and to celebrate the record. Jason Schillereff was there to provide cockpit video.

The amazing power to weight ratio of Steadfast may lead to additional records being broken in the coming months. Look for additional news in the future.

Personally, I’m impressed with Team Steadfast and with Will for not sitting around and asking about the future for Air Racing. Will has decided to write his own future. Good luck and congrats!

Team Steadfast
Used with permission from Team Steadfast

For more information on Team Steadfast, go to

Aviation Calendars 

Don't forget your favorite Aviators this Holiday Season. The Team Ruby Aviation Calendar is for sale, as well as other Ruby Gear.

Until next time, 
Marilyn Dash
Ruby Red Racing

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

What Happens Next?

It’s just over a month since the horrible incident which ended the 2011 National Championship Air Races at Reno. My email has been filled with requests for information about the future of Air Racing.

To tell you the truth, I don’t know – yet. But, I will tell you what I do know.

The Reno Air Racing Association (RARA) has been putting together a top notch event for 48 years. This is over twice as long as the Cleveland Air Races. They have seen other competitive races come and go over the years. Through good times and bad times, they made it work.

RARA has leaned heavily on the use of Volunteers. Very few people are actually paid employees of the Races. Many Volunteers are highly trained, including the Timers, Pylon Judges and Scorers. The Contest Committee is led by a retired USAF General, Ron Fogleman. The Board is filled with Retired Military and local business leaders. At one point I heard they use over 1500 Volunteers each year to make it work.

And then we have the Racers and our Crews. While we don’t work for the Races, the event wouldn’t work without us. And of course, we have the fans. They are possibly the most passionate fans of any sporting event in the world.

Recently a letter came out from Mike Houghton, President and CEO of the Reno Air Racing Association. In this letter, Mike offered a refund for tickets from Saturday and Sunday – since the races were cancelled after the events of Friday afternoon. He also said that many fans had asked for their refunds to be used to help fund the races for next year.

To me, this is good news - because RARA is looking forward to 2012. Since they are a non-profit organization that lives year to year on the ticket sales, the future of this event likely relies on the fans to forgo their refunds and help fund the future. I think this a great idea and hopefully the majority of the fans will agree.

Other Information

While we have heard relatively little from the NTSB as to the cause of the accident, they are busy doing their investigation and will release the findings when they are complete. If you hear someone say they talked to someone in the NTSB and they said this or that – they are probably not telling the truth (or lying – your choice). The NTSB is a closed lipped organization and they will only release facts – when the facts are known.

The FAA has nothing to do with the accident investigation. They take the NTSB findings and make decisions based on those reports. The FAA is critical to the future of the Races because they provide us with the Waiver. Without that Waiver, we are a really cool Fly-In.

The Racers and Crews are all dealing with the events in the best way they know how. Many of us have reached out knowing that we can heal better together. I’ll include my photographer buddies in this group, because they are part of the overall “Crew” at Reno. I know I’m doing much better because of our conversations and I hope you all are also.

The Future

So far, I have heard only one Race Team Owner who has decided to not return. He has decided to sell his racer – and I’m hoping he changes his mind, so I rather not state who this is. I’ve talked with 100s of crew members and racers and maybe two or three have said they will not return. Of the fans, even those injured – actually especially those injured – nearly all of them are ready to be there again in September.

The consensus is, if we get the green light from the FAA, 2012 may be the Biggest Reno EVER!

I know that Team Ruby is working in the off season to tweak the changes we made last year. We have ordered some parts and put together a plan and we are focused on coming back. I have been telling people that it’s easier for us to put the brakes on than to speed up the train – so we’re assuming all systems are a go. Plus, the changes we are making to the racer will only make her a better aircraft.

Thank you to everyone for your kind words and comments. These events hit me harder than I expected. We continue to send our healing thoughts and prayers to the fans and the families affected by the events of last month.

Aviation Calendar

As many of you may know, Team Ruby did an Aviation Calendar last year which was very well received. Well, we just completed our 2012 version – just in time for Holiday Shopping! Please see our website here to place your order. There is also a link on the Pylon Place Blog Site.

Thank you!

Until next time, fly low, fly fast and turn left.

Marilyn Dash
Ruby Red Racing

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Early Air Racing

Early Air Racing

Prior to World War II, air racing was the number one outdoor spectator sport. During this time aviation was in rapid development and it represented the leading edge of technology. The audiences were captivated by the engineering marvels, as well as the courageous pilots. Some things have not changed; we still do see developments made because of air racing. More likely today we use racing as a proving ground for new developments, which will slowly make their way into mainstream aircraft. And, we certainly have courageous pilots still, however, where have the crowds gone? Have they become so bored with flying that it is no longer remarkable? Or, do they just not know we exist?


The first record of an air race I could find was one held in St. Louis, Missouri in 1908. There were only 4 airships - you know, blimps - in the US at the time and all of them participated. Two pilots were blown off course due to the high winds, and the other two finished, sharing the $5,000 prize.

Bennett Trophy

In 1909, The Gordon Bennett Trophy in Reims France was the first major international air race. Pilots from all over the world attended. American, Glenn Curtiss beat Frenchman, Louis Bleriot by five seconds and was named Champion Air Racer of the World. Because of this win, Curtiss was awarded the first pilot's license in the US. That is a great trivia question right there.

  As it happens in many international competitions, the winning pilot's country will host the following year's competition. Because Glenn Curtiss won the previous year, the second Gordon Bennett Race was held in Belmont Park, Long Island. It then moved to England and the France again. The sixth and last Bennett Race consisted of 62 mile straight course. There were competitors from just the three countries who had won in the past, Great Britain, France and USA. The rule was - if a country won three times in a row, they could retire the trophy and the French did in that year.

Gordon Bennett was quite famous at the time as a balloon enthusiast and car racing fan. There is still a Balloon race with his name on it and at one time he sponsored a car racing trophy as well as the air race.

Schneider Trophy

Air racing started to catch on and in 1911, Jacques Schneider announced his version of a race, The Schneider Trophy was for seaplanes. The first race was held in 1913 in the waters off Monaco. The series continued until 1931 and provided great advancements in aerodynamics and engine design. Speeds went from 45 mph to 340 mph at the end of the stretch.

The National Air Races

The Pulitzer Trophy Races went from 1920-1925. These are considered to be the forerunner of the National Air Races at Cleveland. Established by newspaper publisher, Ralph Pulitzer, the first race was held at Mitchell Field in Garden City, Long Island. Four laps of a 29 mile course. The first year, 38 pilots competed. Most were military pilots with just a few civilians. The average winning speed increased from 156 in 1920 to nearly 250 mph in 1925.

  These races morphed into the National Air Races and the Thompson Trophy Race. The Thompson Trophy was a closed course pylon racing event sponsored by Cleveland manufacturer Charles E. Thompson. This was the final event of each year's National Air Races in Cleveland and was the premier closed course event in the world. This would be the equivalent of the Unlimited Gold Final on Sunday at Reno.

These events brought the excitement of wing tip to wing tip racing while the competitors took to the air at the same time. All previous races had the competitors taking off at timed intervals. But, the action at Cleveland was thrilling for the fans.

The National Air Races consisted of both Pylon and Trans-continental races. These events started in 1920 and ended in 1949 when Bill Odom crashed during the race. These years were again defined by technological advancements in reliability and engine power.

Powder Puff Derby

The All-Woman Transcontinental Air Race (AWTAR) was dubbed the Powder Puff Derby by humorist and aviation advocate Will Rogers.The First Power Puff Derby took place in 1929 from Santa Monica to Cleveland. Each of the women pilots was to have logged 100 pilot hours and enter an aircraft with horsepower "appropriate" for a woman. One competitor, Opal Kunz, owned and flew her own 300 hp Travel Air and it was disallowed since it was deemed "too fast for a woman to fly". Um, okay.

  Twenty women started that first Derby. Louise Thaden, Amelia Earhart, and Pancho Barnes were among them. Thaden won with Blanche Noyes and Gladys O'Donnell right behind her.
The Power Puff Derby started again in 1947 and continued on until 1977. Several similar events are run on a smaller scale today, without the hoopla and large crowds.

MacRobertson Air Race

Another very popular trans-continental was the MacRobertson Air Race from England to Australia in 1934. The de Havilland Comet flown by C. W. A. Scott and Tom Campbell Black won that race. There was a mediocre TV Movie called "The Great Air Race" made about the MacRobertson starring Barry Bostwick as Roscoe Turner and Helen Slater as Jackie Cochran.

Bendix Trophy

The Bendix Trophy was named for Vincent Bendix, founder of the Bendix Corporation. This began in 1931 as part of the National Air Races and the final Bendix Trophy Race was flown in 1962. The initial purpose of the race was to entice engineers into building faster, more reliable and more durable aircraft. The route went from Burbank, CA to Cleveland, Oh - except for two years when the route went from NY and ended in LA.

  James Doolittle won the first Bendix; Amelia Earhart was the first woman to enter the race, taking fifth in 1935. However, in 1936, Louise Thaden and her co-pilot Blanche Noyes won the race, with Laura Ingalls finishing second. At the time, there were separate purses, one for the winner and one for the fastest woman. Louise and Blanche won both!

Reno National Championship Air Races

And that's how we got to where we are. Hopefully you enjoyed this brief history of early aviation competitions.

  Until then, fly low, fly fast and turn left.
Marilyn Dash
Ruby Red Racing

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

September 16, 2011 – The Saddest Day

By now most of you have heard of our tragedy at the Reno Air Races on September 16th. I have still not come to a point where I can talk about what I saw and what I experienced. But, I wanted to tell you a story.

They say that Extraordinary People do Extraordinary Things. And I will say that every single one of the pilots and crew at the Reno Air Races are Extraordinary People. They breathe a little deeper, love a little harder, stand closer to the edge. We know there are dangers in doing what we do – but we never imagined our activities would hurt anyone else. Losing one of our own is a tragedy. Losing people who were only there to cheer us on is a catastrophe. Sometimes, these Extraordinary Things go extraordinarily wrong.

My thoughts and prayers are with those who were affected by this event. To the fans we lost, to their families and to the Reno and Air Racing Communities. We shall lean on each other to heal.

Let me tell you about Jimmy Leeward.

Jimmy learned to fly at a young age. He was a second generation pilot and proceeded to raise two more generations of aviators. They were a flying family, living in their own dream community – Leeward Air Ranch in Ocala, FL. The biggest thing for a new pilot was to have their first solo at the Ranch.


Jimmy was also a movie stunt pilot, actor and aviation consultant. He was involved with no less than 8 movies including Amelia, Tuskegee Airmen and Cloud Dancer. He had thousands of hours in hundreds of aircraft. He was a gifted professional.

The first time I met Jimmy we talked about Cloud Dancer and his role in the movie. He was gracious and kind and didn’t mind answering stupid questions from a newbie. Our friendship continued over the years. He always had time for his friends and his fans. If you stopped him for a picture (he never shied away from a camera) he had to shake your hand and chat with you for a minute. If you stopped him for an autograph, he made time for you. I have tried to model my public life after Jimmy and professionals like him.


He was a showman who loved the sport, loved to fly and loved the people around him. He loved his family – especially his wife, Bette – they always acted like teenagers in love together. My life is better for having known him and I will always remember his warmth and kindness.

Blue skies and tailwinds forever…

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Reno Racing Prep

For several months before the Reno Air Races, Race Teams are working diligently to get ready. There are hundreds of things to manage and prepare. I wanted to share with you some of the things we need to think about and give you my picks for this year’s races.


For each racing class, the deadline to have your entry in is the end of June. That’s just your “Here’s my intent to race, and my check”. We get another month to complete all of the paperwork, and there are volumes of it. Items on your list include the request to sell merchandise in your pit, the safety systems on your racer for Crash and Rescue and mountains of other official documentation.

For each class, you need to figure out where your pit will be, who your crew members will be, do you want a golf cart, how about a bicycle, RV parking? Oh, and race insurance – don’t forget that!


Of course, the most important thing is the Race Plane. But, that is not an easy task. Several Racers fly during the year in a different configuration from the race configuration. Some rarely fly at all during the off season – either way, there are very few who believe in the phrase “Run Whatcha Brung”.

Tom Aberle in Phantom with Norm Way hot on his tail
Credit: Anthony Taylor

Last minute engine changes are normal. New racing propellers, different systems and anything else that has changed since last year requires a level of testing. It’s nearly impossible to set up something similar to the race course, but we do try to test at a similar altitude to what we will experience at Reno, but that is not always possible. We do what we can.

It is customary to have at least 5 hours on the new racing configuration before you get to Reno. If you plan on changing propellers while up there, you need to test each propeller separately for the required period and mark it in the log books. This is basically what we’re doing each weekend prior to the races.

You also need to worry about Parachutes, Helmets, Flight Suits, Radios, Batteries, and Cameras.


For newer teams, finding the right mix of crewmembers is critical to your success. After a few years of working together, you get into a rhythm and things go much more smoothly. You always have to consider who will be on the crew. Then, of course – you need to start making hotel reservations, where are you staying? Oh, half the team wants to stay in an RV in the back lot. That’s fine – just I needed to know two months ago. Don’t worry, we’ll make it work.

Formula Crews getting ready on a cold desert morning
Credit: Tim Adams

Who is bringing the toolbox, who has the battery charger, who has the tables and chairs, what else do we need for the Pit? For the “outside” teams, they have to worry about trailer, shade and dealing with much larger crews.

And what will the crew wear? I know that sounds like minutia, but the Warlock Crew wore identical shirts every day – and each day they were different. Each night, the Crew Mom (Anita) would hand each of them a bag with tomorrow’s shirt in it. It’s is just another thing to add to that To-Do list.


Speaking of shirts, many crews sell enormous amounts of merchandise at the races. Someone has to develop the logo, decide what to order, what sizes and colors, etc. Then you need to order it and figure out how to get it delivered to the field in time for the first day. There are fans out there that buy 2 or more shirts from each of their favorite teams and wear them out during the year. They are first in line come opening day to refill their closets.

Click here to shop for Ruby Gear!

Final Checklists

For years, I would pack all of my things and hand them out to several of the other racers and crew members who were headed up around the same time. My Pitts is so small, I couldn’t fit three days of luggage, never mind ten days – plus tools, etc. So, I would farm out my luggage, tools, chairs, etc., to several of the other teams. And usually, by the time I arrived, most of my stash was there. I had to do the same on the way back. It worked – and I was very appreciative of my helpers.

You are always wondering – should we do something different this year? What can we do better?

So, when you see the production each team goes through during Race Week to field a competitive product – remember, this activity started no later than June, and probably around November. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.


This year is going to be great. Most classes have a full field and even with all the end of the summer wrangling – I still believe we are going to have some great racing and most of your favorites will be in attendance.

Biplanes and Sport Class are fielding a full line up. Both of these classes do quite a bit of Marketing in the off –season to keep their rosters full.

Unfortunately, T6 and F1 are down in attendance this year. But, I’m hoping this is just a momentary lull and they will be filling the ramps and hangars again soon. Jets should also be full this year.

My Picks

Tom Aberle is the man to beat in Biplanes. He has been consistently improving his Phantom and if he’s still running on Sunday, he’ll have another Gold Jacket to wear. Although, Norm Way will be right there if he has a misstep. Formula 1 also has a clear favorite and that would be Endeavor and Steve Senegal.

The Sport Class is getting faster every year
Credit: Anthony Taylor

Sport Class should be interesting. My guess is that Mike Dacey will repeat. His Questair Venture is wickedly fast and seems to get faster every year. Kevin Eldredge will have a normally aspirated NXT this year and John Parker’s Thunder Mustang will also be in the hunt. Daryl Greenamyer is sitting out this year and John Sharp has officially retired from air racing.

Dennis Buehn and Nick Macy will duke it out again for the T6 Gold. They are both veterans and know what it takes to win. For the Jets, it will likely be Curt Brown or Mike Mangold. I’d love to see Mike take it this year. He’s patiently finished second for years, which I know isn’t a comfortable place for him.

Also, sad to report, it doesn’t look like Heather Penney’s jet will be ready in time. They had an incident during PRS and there seems to be more work that needs to be done than days available to do it. That is not unusual for this time of year. So many teams say – if I only had a few more weeks…. I’d be ready. It’s never a good idea to rush it.

Looks like we will be missing Heather Penney's Raju Grace this year

Now, Unlimited… Strega is back with Stevo. They are going for the tenth win overall, Tiger had seven and Stevo has two… now, can they bring it home again? Voodoo and Rare Bear are poised to take the lead if Strega falters -- even for a second.

Strega Pilot Stevo Hinton and Crew Chief LD Hughes working together
Credit: Tim Adams

Dreadnought, Furias, 232 and Galloping Ghost could do it also. Czech is on the list – but I'm not sure they will be there. And knowing how they have been working on her for the last two years, I know she’ll be fast.

When it comes to the Unlimited Gold, I have no idea who will win – my only hope is that everyone is running at the end of the day on Sunday and all of the pilots can fly their racers home come Monday morning.

See you at the Races!

Marilyn Dash
Ruby Red Racing

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Race for the Races

Each year around this time, all of the race teams are fervently working to get everything ready for September. This year is no different, and if possible, this year seems even more active. As always, things change quickly – so what we are going to discuss today is what we have so far. Things may change – you never know!

There are new planes and old friends joining us this year. The Unlimited Class will have a full field for the first time since 2007. New entries include Odegaards’ newest Corsair, #74 with the massive R-4360 powerplant. This aircraft was owned and raced by Cook Cleland back in the Cleveland Air Race days. This will be the second F2G the Odegaards have restored and raced. Many of you will remember the Super Corsair, #57 from a few years ago. This one is beautiful and should not disappoint any of the Corsair fans out there.

Another exciting return after a short hiatus is September Fury – yes #232 is scheduled to be at Reno again this year. This fan favorite is currently owned by Rod Lewis and is in Chino getting some final race preparations. It will be good to see our old friend rounding the pylons again. So far, no pilot has officially been named, but we have ideas about who it will be. (Hint... He's a HOOT!)


Yes, that's 232 getting some race prep by the magicians in Chino

Precious Metal will be back this year with Thom Richard as the pilot. The aircraft was purchased shortly before PRS in June and Thom arrived with the entire crowd cheering for him. PM will have some new paint and a few minor tweaks and should be faster than ever. Congrats to Team Thom!

One more returning racer is Furias – Bill Roger’s old Sea Fury is now owned by Chuck Greenhill and is in the capable hands of Sanders’ Aeronautics, getting ready for the much anticipated unveiling in September. Matt Jackson is scheduled to be the pilot. We look forward to seeing what this beauty will do after the rebuild.

With the usual suspects scheduled to be there, Strega having made some minor off season changes and Voodoo in the capable hands of Will Whiteside, these two Mustangs will likely be battling for the front with Rare Bear piloted this year by Stewart Dawson. The Bear looks better than ever.

Beyond 232 and Rare Bear, Rod Lewis will also be bringing El Jefe with a new paint job. My best guess is he will likely pilot El Jefe himself – he attended PRS with Here Kitty Kitty for practice.


Rod Lewis getting some practice in one of his beautiful Tigercats during PRS

More Sea Fury action from Dreadnought and Argonaut will have Dennis Sanders primary on Dread and Mark Watt primary on Argo. But there are plenty of alternate pilots in that mix. Korey Wells will see some time in Argo and Brian Sanders will probably get a few laps in on Dread. They are building both race planes and race pilots in Ione these days. And don’t forget - Sawbones will be back with Dan Vance in the pilot’s seat. Dan had raced 911 September Pops for years when it was owned by Mike Brown. Happy to see Dan back behind a round engine!


Argonaut being flown by rookie Korey Wells and Precious Metal flown by Unlimited Rookie Thom Richard at PRS in June.

Brand new to the lineup is John O’Connor’s “Blue Angel” Bearcat. John owned American Beauty which was raced by Fred Cabanas back in 2008. This time Nelson Ezell will be in the cockpit. It will be nice to have him back after a short vacation.

Czech Mate was listed as possible - but is closer to doubtful right now. They are working with many brilliant minds to make sure the Little Yak will be able to structurally handle the incredible speeds she has been seeing over the last few years.

And now for you Ghost fans… yes, the Galloping Ghost is on the list – with Jimmy Leeward as the pilot. I love to see the fan reaction to this news. So many people are pulling for this one – hopefully we will see her full potential this year.

Doug Matthews will bring both his warbirds, The Rebel – his pristine P-51 and his Corsair – which will likely be flown by rookie John Currenti.

Another busy racer will be John Maloney. He is currently listed as the pilot for the FW-190, Boise Bee and Steadfast. Plus, if you know John – he’ll be lending a hand to assist other crews all week. He is certainly not someone to sit idly by.

Speaking of Boise Bee, this is the new P-51B from the Paul family. The word from John Curtiss is they will be bringing both P-40s (Sneak Attack and Parrothead) and the Bee. Jim Thomas, John Curtiss and John Maloney will take turns flying these entries.

Having avoided several tornadoes by just a few miles, Brent Hisey will be back with his beauty, Miss America. The Eberhardt family will be there with Merlin’s Magic. Sparky and the Jelly Belly will be in the lineup as well as Speedball Alice and Lady Jo.


The Usual Suspects will be there, plus a few exciting new entries

Not sure how many aircraft Chuck Greenhill will bring above and beyond Furias. Both Geraldine and Lou IV are entered. Dave Morss will have both Polar Bear and the T28 called “The Bear”. Air Biscuit will be there also with Tom Camp.

I think I covered everyone on my list. But as I said, things change rapidly as we approach the races.

Sport Class

Just a teaser for you Sport Class fans out there… They have a full field, which will be three heats of 9 airplanes each. The other good news is they will have 5 new engines racing this year. This includes 2 V-8s, a Mazda Rotary, an M-14P Radial and a French Diesel from Team Big Frog. Also, the “Metal Mafia” is back – including several Harmon and F1 Rockets. And of course, Cantina Owner Dick Ogg will be there in Plastic Piglet.


One of the new Sport Class Rookies flying the Radial Rocket, powered by the M-14P

It’s shaping up to be a great year and next month we will review the other classes and pick some favorites to win. If you haven’t already purchased your tickets and secured your hotel and rental car, now is the time. Can’t wait to see you all there!

Marilyn Dash
Ruby Red Racing

Special thanks to Anthony Taylor of Warbird Fotos for use of his photographs from PRS!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Air Racers 3D - Force of Flight

The phone rang. A voice on the other end of the phone asked me if I would be interested in taking part in the Air Racers 3D IMAX movie being filmed about the Reno Air Races. Would I? Really? Of course I would! More phone calls, more emails, small moments of hysteria, and I was on my way to Reno to take part in the project.

From the press release: "Through the eyes of first-time competitor and rookie pilot Steve Hinton Jr., son of champion air racer and acrobatic pilot Steve Hinton, the film will chronicle the preparation for and competition in the world's fastest motor sport: the legendary Reno National Championship Air Races. The film will be in Imax 3D and 2D theatres in the US beginning in the fall."

Sounds great, right? While I had been hearing about this film for years now, getting the chance to be part of it - even a small part - was amazing. I arrived on Friday afternoon while they were still shooting some of the Unlimited action. Strega and Stevo were on hand as well as Brant Seghetti in Sparky, Matt Jackson in Wee Willy, Stu Dawson in Here Kitty, Kitty. A helicopter was set up with the 3D camera with Kevin LaRosa, long time aerial filming giant at the helm. The scene looked quite similar to the races during the first few days of set up. It was eerily familiar.

Because of the short notice, not all of my crew members could be there. However, Matt Williams and Don Dull were on hand with Manager, Jason Fisher being left behind. Matt immediately took to polishing Ruby to make her sparkle like the gem she is. Quick meetings with the production crew, locating my car, hotel, etc., Thanks everyone - we'll see you tomorrow.

The next morning, we were told the pilot brief would be at 8am. During the races, the Biplanes brief at 7am and the door closes on the briefing room at 6:59 and if you're not inside by then, you do not race that day. So, this was almost a luxury! We arrive around 7am and start getting the airplanes ready. We head over to the briefing room at 7:45 and nothing happens until around 9:15. We are all laughing about the difference between filming and RACING.

As mentioned, majority of the film would be about Stevo and Strega. But the producers wanted to show some background to the races, the airshow acts, the other classes which compete and the action outside of the Unlimiteds. I was chosen to represent the Biplane Class, while Phil Goforth and Jay Jones were there with the Formula 1 Class. Just like during race week, we would fly earlier in the day and would work together.

My shoot

First thing we do is attach one of the 3D cameras onto my right I-strut. My crew is on hand to make sure everything is done to their satisfaction. They are in charge of keeping me and Ruby safe - so no camera movement, or too much weight, etc. Now we're ready for show time.

The helicopter takes to the air and provides constant feedback and direction. Taxi to the run up area, taxi into position, helicopter follows my takeoff down the full length of runway 8. Then, we went to altitude, and I followed Kevin's direction for "beauty shots". I flew towards the camera and away from the camera, making sure we had the perfect background. These shots are going to be amazing - the mountains still had snow on them and the sun was hitting the hills creating incredible color. What a morning to fly!

When my airwork was complete, the helicopter followed me down to my landing - not my best, but not my worst either. We ended with some shots of me taxiing into position and having my joyous crew greet me for the debrief. Actually, we do precisely that after every race. Cameras and people were everywhere, so my signature twirl was a little more risky - but authentic.

The rest of the day was spent watching the other classes. Lee Behel and Kevin Eldredge flew for the Sport Class. Denis Buehn and John Zayak were on hand to represent the T6s while Heather Penney and John Kokshoorn flew for the Jet Class.

The movie should hit theatres later this year. I'll keep you posted and hope you circle your calendars.

Reno prep begins in earnest now and next month's column will be about the new racers who attended PRS. Until then, Fly low, fly fast and turn left.

Marilyn Dash
Ruby Red Racing

IMAX Filming in preparation for the Air Racers - 3D movie
Credit: 3D Entertainment

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Women of Reno Air Racing

Last month, we talked about Women in Aviation and I shared with you some of my mentors along my path. This month, I’d like to share with you a little about the women who have raced at Reno.

No Surprise - Formula One has had the second highest number of women racers

Since there is really no definitive source on all of this, I’m relying on the facts I have been able to gather through RARA and through conversations with other racers. If any of this is incorrect, I apologize – and contact me with the correct information.

Through the years

The numbers are not remarkable, Over the 47 years of Air Racing at Reno – 24 women have raced. The Biplanes take the lead with 9 women; Formula 1 has had 7; Sport Class has had 2; T6 had 3; Jets have had 2 and Unlimited – just one. Several others have attended PRS and have been listed as racers, but have not actually put up a qualifying time or completed a race.

The first woman to race at Reno was Connie Marsh in the Biplane Class. Connie started in 1969. She was about 90 lbs soaking wet with dimes in her pockets and the Biplane Class decided her size was a benefit for her. They required her to be weighed and decided to add ballast to her aircraft to make up for her diminutive size.

Another Biplane Racer at the time was also under the 150 lbs arbitrary number the Biplane Class chose. He told me about going into town and getting as many silver dollars as he could and he wore a heavy leather jacket with many pockets to hide the coins he used so he didn’t need to add ballast to his own aircraft.

Her first year, Connie flew Lowers Special – a Smith Mini Plane. This model is rarely competitive in the Biplane Class and all of the angst was for nothing, really. The next year, she returned with the Hill Mong and was more competitive. But, she broke the barrier and slowly but surely – women started to become Air Racers.

In 1970, Connie was joined by Joan Alford. Joan flew in the F1 Class in Pogo for two years. In 1971, Joan was joined by Judy Wagner flying the Wagner Solution. She became the first woman to win a Formula One race – actually any race at Reno. Judy raced the Solution from 1971 until 1981. This plane was renamed Judy and has returned to Reno with new owner Holbrook Maslen.

Colene Giglio was the first woman to race in the T-6 Class starting in 1974. T-6's raced at Cleveland in the late '40s in the Halle Trophy Races with all women pilots. Colene raced until 1977 and last I heard she was running a Flight School at Long Beach Airport.

Erin Rheinschild is the sole Unlimited Racer. She raced from 1990 – 1992 in Miss Fit. She won the Bronze in 1990. Then in 1992, she qualified, and her husband Bill ended up racing the airplane. I’ve always wanted to meet Erin. I understand she was highly respected by the “brethren”. Bill continues to race but Erin has not returned. Bill owned the Sea Fury named Bad Attitude and still owns Risky Business, a beautiful P-51 Mustang.

Lori Love raced the in the F1 Class from 1983 to 1995. The Scholl Special was owned by Chuck Wentworth. She showed up her first year with an all female crew. She later raced Flying Dutchman for Tommy Aslett. From what I’ve been told, she was highly respected as a pilot and enjoyed her years racing. She moved on to other flying adventures after her racing days concluded. In 2007, her plane was lost while flying over Western Africa.

In 1985, Patti (Nelson) Johnson joined the races. She flew Spring Fever and then Miss USA in Formula 1. Adding the Biplane Class to her resume in 1992 – she flew Full Tilt Boogie, winning the Biplane Gold in 1993, 1995 and 1996. She was a member of the U.S. Aerobatic team in 1980-82, winning one gold, three silver and two bronze medals. She was also Women’s National Aerobatic champion in 1982.

Over the years, Biplanes have attracted the most women racers

In 1987, Peggy Penketh decided to race in the Biplane Class. Her husband at the time, Mike Penketh, had been racing for a few years and had recently built a new racer. His old racer was her way into the game. She flew for three years in Biplane #4 (same number I have now) called Passion Pitts. Peggy is now married to long time racer Tom Dwelle and can usually be found in the Dwelle Pit Area.

In 1987, Katharine Gray joined the Formula Class in Pogo – the same aircraft Joan Alford raced in the early 70’s. In 1994, Katharine moved over to Geronimo, a GR-7 designed by Robbie Grove.

Also in 1987, Linda Finch joined the T-6 Class. She raced until 1992. In 1997, Linda participated in a recreation of the final Amelia Earhart Flight in a 1935 Lockheed Electra 10E. Wisely, Linda’s Electra was outfitted with a GPS and was modified to carry 1800 gallons of fuel, compared to Earhart’s estimated 800 gallons. It took her 10 weeks to make this trip.

Madelaine Kennedy flew in the F1 Class from 1990-1994, in Video Cassutt (cute play on words) and later Fandango. I believe she still owns her Cassutt.

Bonnie Warner may be a name you will remember from the Winter Olympics. She competed in the Luge and Bobsled. After the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Bonny received a $10,000 scholarship and decided to earn her pilot’s license. She added the Reno Air Races to her resume with the coaxing of fellow racer Randy Howell. She flew only one year.

Lynn Getchell raced one year, 1994, in Okie Twister. She was the wife of popular warbird pilot Ellsworth Getchell who owns one of the remaining Bristol Centaurus powered Sea Furys.

Mary Dilda joined the T-6 Class in 1996. She and her then husband, Steve,shared flying duties for Two of Hearts for years until she won the coin toss and he bought Felix. She first one the Gold in 1997 in Mystical Power. Later she won again in 2005. She also raced in the Jet Class from 2002 – 2004 – winning the Gold in 2003. Mary is the only woman to have won Gold in two different classes at Reno. Jackie Warda raced Biplane from 2002 – 2004; leaving to fly airshows.

Vicki Cruse and I attended PRS together in 2003. Vicki raced her Glasair intermittently between 2003-2006. When she wasn’t racing at Reno, she was preparing to fly at the National Aerobatic Championships to complete her other goal of being the USA’s National Aerobatic Champion. She accomplished this in 2007 and was killed in 2009 at the World Aerobatic Championships. Before her untimely death, she was being touted as a front runner for Steve Fossett’s LSR Driver. She was a racer and a competitor all the way.

In 2006, Leah Sommers, Erica Hoagland and Amber Applegate were all Rookies in the Biplane Class. Due to a paperwork issue, Amber was unable to compete that year, Leah and Erica finished in the Bronze. Later Leah would come back and I believe will race again in the future. Erica left the Biplane Class and moved to the Formula 1 Class in 2008. She was unfortunately lost during a training flight that year. Casey Erickson joined the Biplane Class in 2008.

In 2010, both Heather Penney, daughter of John Penney – and Vicky Benzing attended PRS. Heather raced in the Jet Class and Vicky raced in the Sport class in Vicki Cruse’s Glasair as a tribute to her late friend.

That’s it, in a nutshell - the 24 women who have raced at the Reno Air Races since the beginning. I can only hope this is just the beginning and women will do more for the sport in the future.

Until next time .. Fly low, Fly Fast and Turn Left,
Marilyn Dash
Ruby Red Racing

**Thanks again to Tim Adams Photography for the use of his incredibly photos.**

Sunday, February 6, 2011

February is Women in Aviation Month

Because February is Women in Aviation Month, I was asked to focus this month’s column on this topic and believe me, this was a very interesting request. I spent most of the last month thinking about the women who have inspired me, and realizing my responsibility to the next generation.

In 2010, I attended my first Oshkosh. During this event, I made sure I was on-site for the Women in Aviation Photo Shoot. An estimated 600 joined together in our yellow t-shirts for this special event. Long time pilot, Betty “Boopsie” Sherman was with me while I searched the area for others. I wanted to stand with my California Pilot Pals and other special friends. We gathered together long time pilots Andrea Eldridge, Debby Rihn-Harvey, Carri Hoagland and new pilots Bonnie “Bonz” Ritchey and Jan Causey Johnson. That was an amazing time for me. I felt the pride of all of those women and realized I was not alone in my experiences.


Caption: Me and about 600 of my closest friends - can you find me?

A recent study tried to determine why, in the USA – women comprise over 50% of the population, but less than 6% of pilots. The study results suggested several reasons – some I will disregard because they can be attributed to either gender. Examples include; Flight School Closed, Frequent Instructor Changes and Limited Funds – those aren’t gender specific.

The ones I focused on included; Limited Mechanical Knowledge, Instructor Incompatibility and No Female Mentors. I believe these items are relevant and realistic.

Another study focused on air crashes between 1983 and 1997 – studying 144 female and 287 male pilot’s incidents. The results showed the male pilots had more flawed decision making while the females were more fearful and hence, mishandled the aircraft. More fear – more aptitude issues.

Some of my Mentors

I was lucky enough to have some amazing female mentors in my life. The first one I always think of would be Marta Meyer. Marta was a World Class Aerobatic Competitor; she was a Chief Engineer for NASA at their Dryden Flight Research Center, was the first female crew member on the SR-71 and worked on many other incredible projects. She was a CFI, A&P and IA. She also was a prankster and a wonderful friend.

She taught me that training removes fear. Know more about your aircraft, know how it works, how the engine works, how it spins and why, if you always learn – knowledge will replace your fear. She also taught me that you need to be serious when you’re in the aircraft – but when you’re not, it’s perfectly acceptable to throw a dinner roll and start a food fight at the banquet. I treasure the time I had with her and still think of her often. I was blessed to call her my friend.

Vicki Cruse is a name many of you will know. She was a National Unlimited Aerobatic Champion, World Class Aerobatic Pilot, President of an aviation company, President of the IAC, Sport Class Racer and friend. Vicki knew so much about her aircraft – she wrote a column about the technical side to flying. She was incredibly talented and incredibly learned.

Many of you won’t know the name Andrea Rice. Andrea was the first Lead for the Patriots. She was incredibly talented and I learned much from her by listening and watching. She was a leader – an amazing woman.

Another woman who taught me much was a Naval Aviator – who wrote a book about her experience called “She's Just Another Navy Pilot:” If you haven’t read it – you should. Loree Draude Hirschman was one of the first women combat pilots aboard a ship in 1995. While the news was all about gender bias and the pressing social issues of the time – Loree looked at herself as “just another navy pilot” and did her job without calling attention to her gender. Her story is about proving yourself and using your skill, courage and determination to make it in a new role. She taught me more than she’ll ever know.


Caption: She’s more than just another Navy Pilot – with her F18 driving husband, "Hairball".

What women should know before becoming a pilot …

Women think differently than men. When an instructor or a coach tells you that you need more top rudder in your rolls, it doesn’t mean you’re not a good person, or that you are stupid, or your mother wears army boots. It most likely means that you need more top rudder in your rolls. Learning to take constructive criticism without taking it personally is essential to becoming a better pilot.

Avgas is terrible on nails. Yes, it practically eats away at nail polish. Wearing gloves doesn’t help much. But, it’s VERY important for you to fuel your own aircraft. Every time you touch your plane, you have the chance to learn something. Every time you wash your own plane, you learn something. Take every chance, learn everything, if you have the ability to help with your annual inspections – do it.

Helmets and headsets do terrible things to your hair. May I suggest a hat? Safety gear is not sexy – but it’s also essential. Helmets, parachutes, flight suits, whatever it takes, wear them. You can look pretty later – at the banquet, party, dinner, etc.

The airport is the place to be. I’m lucky enough to have a bunch of “big brothers” at my airport who have taken me under their wing (pun intended) and answered my questions, taught me things, flew with me and basically became my airport family. I am incredibly lucky to have these people in my life! I love you guys – the Cantina Crew!

I’ve always been a bit of a tomboy – loved sports, cars, racing, etc. – this certainly helped me out in getting along with my fellow pilots. However, just being confident, skilled and determined is all our wingmen ask of us. It’s not easy – but it’s worth it.

My turn

Lately, more and more people have reminded me that it is now my turn. I now have the chance to repay all of the women who have helped me along the way by making myself available to help others. In 2010, I took five women for their first small airplane ride. I promise to continue introducing women to aviation.

Believe me, I know that I have a lot to learn about flying – but I will take a more active role in mentoring others – to being there when someone has a question, listening, giving an encouraging word – it’s all part of it. I hope that I can inspire the next generation of female pilots - one flight at a time.

Marilyn Dash
Ruby Red Racing


Caption: The Aviator - Any day I'm flying is one of the happiest days of my life!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Evolution of Civilian Jet Teams

It seems I cannot walk down the street these days without someone asking me about Jets. Not the NY Jets, but the Civilian Jet Teams or the Jet Class at the Reno Air Races. Oddly enough, the growth of these groups seems to be related.

While at the International Council of Air Shows Convention last month, much was said about the Jet Teams being formed or adding members. It’s a phenomenon worthy of note.

It all started with the Stoli MiGs. Around 1998, Randy Howell and Jerry Gallud could be seen in their beautifully restored, bright red MiG 17s at Airshows and events around the country. While performing an Airshow routine, MiGs burn approximately 1000 gallons of jet fuel per hour, an enormous amount of fuel. Stoli, wisely, chose to sponsor them in a big way and claimed it was the best advertisement in Stoli history, This was known as the birth of the Civilian Jet Team. Later they changed sponsors to Smirnoff.

*Special thanks to Mike Idacavage for the use of his picture

Several of you were there at the “Birth of the Jet Class at Reno”. The Stoli MiGs were joined by Jimmy Leeward in his MiG, Steve Hinton in his T-33 and Rick Vandam in Wild Child. The first jet class demo was just before the 500mph attempt with Skip Holm and Dago Red, five jets took to the air for the first Demo Jet Race. It was AWESOME. Randy and Jimmy were flying together, Rick and Jerry were together and Steve was somewhere in the middle. It seems Jimmy doesn’t like to have someone flying too closely, so he went into burner on the back of the course and pulled way ahead, and practically off the course. I was there and remember it as incredibly fun to watch.

The Patriots

In 2003, the MiGs became L-39s and the Patriots were born. The first year they were a two jet team = exciting, unusual and pretty darn cool. Their schedule, fans, team and #s grew yearly. In 2011, they will have a SIX JET TEAM! This will be amazing to watch.

The Patriots are let lead by Randy Howell; who I have known since the late 90s. He has always had a vision of what he wanted to do with the jets. His hangar is filled with MiGs, L-39s, and other aerobatic and non-aerobatic airplanes. His personality, commitment and professionalism are the cornerstones of the team.

*Thank you to The Patriots for the use of their photo

It all comes together with Sponsorship! From the beginning, the Patriots were lucky enough to find Fry’s Electronics. Randy Fry is a fan of aviation and has been there helping support the Patriots from the beginning. They also have Hot Line Construction (owned by Carol Bade) as another enormous supporter. The General Manager of Hot Line is also one of the Patriot pilots, Troy Myers.

When Randy wanted to go from a 4-ship show, to a 6-ship show, he went to his two largest sponsors and asked for their help. They made it happen – and the West Coast Airshow Fans are the lucky recipients.

If you haven’t seen the Patriots, they put on a high powered Jet Show. The formations are terrific – there is always something in front of the crowds, and the multi-colored smoke just makes the show.

Exciting news to Reno Fans – they will be performing this year at the Reno Air Races. And for the SF Fleet Week Fans – It sounds like the Patriots may be joining the Blue Angels, Thunderbirds and Canadian Snowbirds over the skies of SF in October. I have already circled that weekend on my Ruby Red Calendar! Check for their full schedule at their website

Heavy Metal Jet Team

Word came out a few months ago that there is a new Jet Team in town. The Heavy Metal Jet Team is led by Dale “Snort” Snodgrass and Jerry “Jive” Kerby, both familiar names to Airshow fans.

Jared “Rook” Isaacson made it happen when this accomplished Warbird and General Aviation pilot joined the group and added his company’s sponsorship. Jared is the Founder and CEO of United Bank Card, the sole sponsor of the Heavy Metal Jet Team.

*Thank you to the Heavy Metal Jet Team and to Kristina McCarthy-Martin for the use of this photo

The team will consist of five jets, four L-39s and a T-33. The stark Arctic camo color scheme will certainly catch the attention of Airshow fans on the East Coast this year. I wish them luck and can’t wait to see their show! More information and their schedule can be found at their website

Teams, Sponsors and Foundations

Three things came to me when I was researching the Jet Teams for this column. Nearly all of the pilots are military trained. Actually – not just military but Military Jet Team. There are Blue Angels, Thunderbirds and even a Snowbird on the rosters -- high powered talent, to be sure.

The second thing was the sponsors. All of them said they couldn’t have done it without the support of sponsors. And I have to say Thank You to all of the corporate sponsors of Airshow Performers!

The final thing is their Foundations. The Patriots have formed a Foundation that is centered on motivating kids to have careers in Aviation. And the Heavy Metal Jets are dedicating their first Airshow season to another worthy cause, the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Good luck to all of you and have a great 2011!

Marilyn Dash
Ruby Red Racing