Sunday, December 1, 2013

World Aerobatic Championships – 2013

The World Aerobatic Championships come to the USA once every 10 years or so. This year, they were held at North Texas Regional Airport in Grayson County, TX. The good news was– everyone had a great time. The bad news was – the weather did NOT cooperate.


Before racing in the Biplane Class at Reno, I was involved in local IAC Competition. The challenge of flying competitive aerobatics was something I very much enjoyed and something I may plan to return to – now that things are rocky at RARA. I found that I couldn’t do both at the same time – the airplane I was using needed to be changed for each sport and I didn’t have the time or resources to do it each year.  But, if the Reno Air Races are over (more on this next month) –it is likely will I will throw my time and energy back into Aerobatics.

Beautiful Aerobatic Machines

Local or Regional competitions are followed by a National Competition (also in September – see the problem?). This National Competition in the US produces a US Team – either the WAC (World Aerobatic Championship) - for Unlimited Competitors or the AWAC (Advanced World Aerobatic Championship) for Advanced Competitors. Each National Team can have up to 8 male members and 3 female members.


This year, eighteen countries were represented along with Hors Concours Competitors – who were not part of any national team, but were flying in the contest for themselves. Nearly 80 of the world’s best aerobatic pilots were there after traveling to the US and either finding a plane to borrow, or bring their own from home. 

The week started out windy and rainy and the weather was the story. Doug Sowder, IAC President, was in charge of Wind Reports. He would set up a Wind Balloon several times a day to obtain the current winds, not just at ground level, but at the altitude the competitors were flying. Most reports were “out of limits” for International Competition – based on FAI rules. The daily joke was “What time is the 7am pilot brief”… since it was delayed and delayed and delayed each day.

Weather posed a major problem all week

When the winds died down, the rains began. For 2 days, we couldn’t fly at all and didn’t even bother to go to the airport.


What do you do with 80 competitive pilots and dozens of volunteers when you can’t fly?
One night, we went to the Rodeo. The next day we went to see the movie “Rush” and then Go-Kart Racing! It was all we could do not to go stir crazy.


The flying resumed. A standard international WAC contest consists of 2 sections – the first set of flights include Known (or Compulsory), Freestyle (something you put together yourself in accordance with very strict standards) and 2 Unknowns (routines that were pieced together based on recommended figures). Because of the delays, not everyone was able to fly the first Unknown and no second Unknown flight was even attempted.

Aresti Code Figures for the first Unknown

The second section is the 4-minute Freestyle. This is more of an airshow type routine – with smoke and music and non-standard figures. Saturday – the final day of the competition – was set aside to make sure we were able to finish the 4-minute routines. Oddly enough, the US seems to excel in this area.

Four Minute Freestyle

Several famous names were listed amongst the competitors including three Red Bull Air Racers: Hannes Arch, Martin Sonka and Nicolas Ivanoff. Previous World Champions were onsite also including Mikhail Mamistov, Victor Chmal and Patrick Paris. There is a separate individual championship for women, with returning champion Svetlana Kapanina was beat out by Aude Lemordant from France. And USA Team Member, Rob Holland won the 4-minute Freestyle – his forte being a highly sought after airshow pilot.

The last time an American won the Championship was in 1988 when Henry Haigh won in Red Deer, Canada flying a Superstar. Rob Holland has won the 4-Minute twice since then – and Zach Heffley won the 4-minute in 2007.

The French Team came away with the Gold, riding on great performances by Francois LeVot (the overall winner), Olivier Masurel, Francois Rallet, Ivanoff and Alexandre Leboulanger – all finishing in the top ten. The USA Team earned the Silver with Rob Holland, Michael Racy and Nikolay Timofeev in the top 10. The Russian Team walked away with the Bronze, with Mamistov finishing second overall.


The best part of attending the WAC 2013 is the Friendships. The names may not roll off the tongue of the average pilot, but these people are Rockstars to some of us. Each of them is a world level competitor and an inspiration. This level of flying requires non-stop focus and determination. I walked away with a book filled with autographs, Better Aerobatics by Alan Cassidy – who was also on-site as a Judge.

Even with the wind and the rain – I know I’m glad I volunteered to be part of the Team. Special appreciation to Chris Rudd, the Contest Director;  Lorrie Penner, the Assistant Contest Director; Joy McKinney, the Volunteer Coordinator, Lynn Bowes, the Registrar; Douglas Lovell for the Website, etc., and all the other volunteers who made this experience possible. Special thanks to Laurie Zaleski and Patty Anderson for their photographs.


Don’t forget to buy your Aviation Calendar at -- Great gift idea for the pilot in your life!

Next month we’ll take a look at what’s happening with the Reno Air Races. Happy Holidays!  

Until then…

Friday, November 1, 2013

The 50th National Championship Air Races -- Wrap-up -- Part 2

Last month, we reviewed the Unlimited/UWRC races. And I promised this month to cover the other five classes of competitors. Let’s get started.


First thing in the morning, when the skies are dark and the dew is still on the planes, the IF1 (and Biplane) air racers are already at the field, tugging their planes out to runway 08 and trying not to shiver from the cold. The crowds are light at this time, which is a pity because some of the best racing happens before 10AM.

This year was no different. The IF1 class participants were few in number, but deep in talent and heart.

After qualifying nearly 10 miles per hour faster than anyone else, Steve Senegal, the reigning IF1 Champion had a difficult start and just couldn’t get around Vito Wypraechtiger in long time racer, Scarlet Screamer. Vito is one of two competitors in the IF1 class from Europe; Vito from Switzerland and Bill Parodi from Spain.

The final race on Sunday was amazing. Everyone was on their feet cheering for their favorite and cheering for a great race, if they had no favorite. It was eight laps of intense racing.

Vito Wypraechtiger in Scarlet Screamer
Thanks to Phredtography


The other early morning entertainment is the Biplane Class. This year brought many Rookies and a few “Boomerangs” to the races. A Boomerang is a racer who returns after time away – get it?

Byron Roberts raced back in the early 90s with me when I started. He wanted to come back for the 50th and Aaron Burhoe came back after just a few years away. Great to have you both back!

Rookies included Jeffrey Rose, Brett Schuck, John D’Alessandro and Matt Burrows. Jeff and Brett brought very stock Pitts Specials while Matt and John brought giant (for the Biplane Class anyway) two-seaters – which were recently voted in by our new rules.  

Big Blue Biplane

This year was the first time since I’ve been racing where we utilized an 8 or 4 second handicap. The Biplanes start on the runway, the first row goes, then 4 seconds later, the next row and another 4 seconds before the third row finally moves. While 4 or 8 seconds doesn’t seem like much, we wanted to see if this changed the complexion of the racing. The group voted to have the handicap added to this year’s races.

To no one’s surprise, Tom Aberle won again, hands down – in his custom built racer, Phantom. When asked what Tom was up to next – he said he is building a new racer… and then finished the statement by saying… and this one won’t have two wings. Hmmm… I wonder what he has up his sleeve!?

The race is then for second place, which was won by Karl Grove although Jake Stewart in his new (to him) racer qualified second. Did the handicap rule change the finish? I’d have to say yes.

Here’s to hoping the Jeff Lo finishes his final changes on Miss Gianna, Karl Grove finishes his Boomerang (no relation), Jeff Rose finishes his Mong Racer and the race is not just for second place.

With a great group of racers and a dedicated fan base, the Biplanes are an interesting Class.


While Nick Macy qualified .3 seconds faster than Dennis Buehn, this was not his year. During Saturday’s race, a catastrophic engine failure caused him to have one of the most spectacular maydays of T-6 racing when he Chandelled to Runway 14. His years flying Six Cat were evident in his masterful handling of this in-flight emergency.

Nick Macy rounding out his landing during mayday

Dennis Buehn was the final Gold winner on Sunday in Midnight Miss. John Lohmar came in second and Chris Rushing finished third.

And, Gordo Sanders won the Silver in Big Red.  Had to get that in there. 

Sport Class

The largest Class of racers – again this year – the Sport Class. With 28 competitors, they keep growing while so many classes are experiencing decreasing numbers.

Again this year, Jeff LaVelle qualified quickest. But he just didn’t get the overall number he was trying to hit. He wanted to get the record, which is currently held by John Sharp in Nemesis, 2008 – 409.297. But, 403.059 was all he needed to qualify nearly 12 mph faster than John Parker in Blue Thunder II.

And the race went the same way. Jeff started in front and stayed in front. And Parker came in a distant second place, partly because of an early cut pylon that added 12 seconds to his time.

We were seriously disappointed that the GP5 wasn’t there, but there was enough excitement and enough beautiful airplanes and great flying to keep their fan base and add many more.

Jeff LaVelle - still champion

Rookies flew well, we especially enjoyed watching Andrew Findley qualify and finish 5th among the old guard. He’s definitely got the racing bug and I bet we’ll see improvements during the off-season.

And Sport Class Rookie Brant Seghetti, who has been racing Sparky (the Jelly Belly P-51) for years, flying a beautiful line at about the same speed in Miss Picabo – a gorgeous Thunder Mustang.

A few more shout outs – one to Tom McReynolds for coming back. You and Poky were missed. And to Shane Margraves who brought a Zlin 50 and finished last, but was there and got the t-shirt – and the largest number of penalty seconds I’ve ever seen. Colleen, it is nice to see another lady racer. And to Dick Ogg, who decided that Nitrous was the way to go. You rock!


A new winner was crowned in the Jet Class. Pete Zaccagnino and his new (to him) L-29 Delfin, “Just Lucky” are the new Jet Gold winners. Pete was able to keep it under the Jet Speed Limit and still perform admirably with a qualifying time of just over 512.

The other big news was the GiB, or Gadget in Back of Jet #5. They are using a water injection system and decided to paint the water tank to look like R2D2. It was a hit! 

Gadget in Back - is R2D2
Marilyn Dash - photographer

All new officers were voted in at the end of race week and we’re looking forward to seeing what changes are coming down the road for the Jets. Stay tuned…

Final Words…

The 50th is in the books. But what does the future hold – we’ll find out soon enough. I had a great time and it's always nice to see our September Family again. 

Monday, September 30, 2013

The 50th National Championship Air Races -- Wrap-up -- Part 1

Well, the 50th is in the books. The same kid won, but he was riding a different horse. There was good, there was bad, and there was not a lot of ugly, thankfully. Let’s get started with the review.

The UWRC (AKA Unlimiteds) competitors were few and far between, with only 15 racers showing up for race week. But, the big iron was there. Returning champ, Strega, along with Voodoo, Rare Bear, Czech Mate, 232 and Dreadnaught all have the pedigree. All of them could win; nearly all of them HAVE won. But, it was Bob Button’s year --- finally.

After threatening retirement for the third time, many didn't expect Button and Voodoo to be back at the races - ever. A change of heart, the right team, the right time and the right combination all came together and they did it. Voodoo, who has maydayed out of so many races over the years, finally wins it all on Sunday.

We affectionately called the combo, “Yoda and the Kid” – but it was so much more than that. It was a team effort, including an owner who was dedicated to winning it all. You could feel the excitement coming from their pit each day. You could see it on each of their faces. It was magic – or Voodoo. Voodoo glasses were the fashion statement of the week. All the cool kids were wearing them.

Proud Father and Son - Champions

And then there was Matt Jackson. Matt has watched the Championship slip through his fingers more times than anyone else. Many thought this was his year – to get the monkey off his back and finally win it all. But, bad luck struck him over and over again.

Tuesday afternoon, Matt heads up to put in a qualifying lap. We all see him coming down the chute and then there was a mayday. The fan next to me with the binoculars said, “I don’t think he has a canopy”. That’s crazy – how could his canopy have broken…. We just shook our heads and watched him pull off a flawless mayday landing in his new Mustang Convertible.

Czech Mate with Strega on her tail
Rob Miller - Photography

Within minutes, Dennis Sanders walks over and says… "I have a canopy at the shop, sending Korey to go get it." WHAT? Maybe Matt’s luck will change!

Speaking of Korey Wells, he flew in his FIRST GOLD RACE on Sunday in Argonaut. Great work - well deserved! 

Back to Strega.. by the next day, Andy Chiavetta, the Carbon Fiber Guru from the Sport Class, had joined the Strega team and the canopy was coming along.

Unable to qualify, Matt would need to start in the back of the Silver and work his way up. Matt and the Strega team had to sit back and wait. On Friday, Matt started on the outside and moved up quickly to first place and was crossing the finish line when we heard there was a deadline cut. DEADLINE? AGAIN?

Back in 2007, Matt was flying Dreadnaught and in the final race was called with a controversial deadline cut – this was familiar territory to him. But, rather than throw in the towel, he threw his efforts into winning the Silver AGAIN… on Saturday.

Sunday’s race was epic. Fast, exciting and safe. Voodoo first, Strega second, Czech Mate in third, Rare Bear in fourth.

Earlier in the week…

Precious Metal showed up with 19 minutes to spare on Sunday, skating past the original “All Racers must be on the field” deadline of noon on Saturday. While this may make it exciting for the fans, the program has a long way to go before they are taken seriously by the brethren. Three years in a row, they have arrived with more oil on the sides than in the engine. 

I look up to professional teams like Voodoo, 232, Rare Bear, etc., who work the program together and are ready when the clock strikes noon. This isn't an easy sport and may not be for everyone – this is serious business and shouldn't be taken lightly or with a smirk. Show up prepared, on time, ready to race and be professional – that’s the minimum requirement.


Strega’s canopy wasn’t the only calamity of week. After qualifying faster than any other Sea Fury in history, 232 lost the intake on the top of the engine in the first race on Saturday. When it let go, parts flew off and skimmed the top of the canopy, hit the tail and could have done much more damage. 

Part of the scoop ended up rattling around in the engine and Hoot Gibson, in his third year flying 232, performed a perfect mayday landing while all of us held our breath.

Hoot in 232 - before the intake let go

The repairs will be done at Sanders Aeronautics during the off-season. I should say that Dennis did walk up to the team afterwards and said, “That’s why we made our's out of aluminum”. So, expect 232 to have an aluminum intake next time you see her.  

Rare Bear

Rare Bear’s new Texas Crew had their work cut out for them all week. Chasing demons, behind on power; they wrenched and scratched their heads and wrenched some more. While the testing at 1000’ MSL went well, the racing at 5000’ MSL did not. I’m certain Stewart Dawson, Nelson Ezell and the team will figure it out. And they can still walk away with their fourth place finish – which is still better than a DNF.

Czech Mate

Sherman Smoot looked right at home flying Czech. Last time we saw her was 2009. The new wing did great and Sherman flew to a comfortable third place. Unfortunately, on his return to Shafter had a brake issue and ground looped the aircraft. The damage isn't as bad as originally reported and John Moore, owner of Czech Mate, has confirmed his interest in rebuilding.

Other classes…

I will cover the other classes in next month’s column, but I didn't want to give you just a brief overview of this amazing group of aircraft. Since I've been going to the races, this was the best group of potential winners we've seen in the Unlimited (UWRC) Gold. It really could have been anyone’s game. But, this year, it was Voodoo's.

Happy Team Voodoo

So what does the future hold for the Reno Air Races? Most people we spoke to on the ramp made a special effort to get there this year, because they thought it would be the last. Will we all return for the 51st, or are we done? That remains to be seen. I do know that I heard the “Wait until next year” comments coming from many of the UWRC pits. So, there is hope.

Until next month… Fly low, fast and turn left…

Marilyn Dash
Pylon Place

Saturday, August 31, 2013

50th Anniversary of the National Championship Air Races

It’s that time again. The crews are making the final touches on the race planes and the pilots are testing and growing more focused every day. The drama that is Air Racing is ready to play out in front of our incredibly loyal fans. Let’s take a look at who will be there and what to expect.


At this point, we have 16 aircraft on the roster. While not the largest number of entries, the fans should be pleased with the caliber of racers. 

Voodoo is back. Yes, after a year off, Bob Button is coming back in a big way. He decided to put together his dream team and go for that elusive win. Stevo Hinton will be flying Voodoo this year. And Kerch is back as the team adviser, in what we are affectionately calling, “Yoda and the Kid”. They are having fun, they are focused on winning and they are the team to beat right now.

Button's Voodoo - with Yoda and The Kid

Rare Bear has made the trip to Texas and back for a tweaking by Nelson Ezell and his crew of Warbird Whisperers. A wave of their magic wand and maybe the Rare Bear will be back to her winning form? With Stewart Dawson in the seat and a hungry owner in Rod Lewis, is this their year?

Rare Bear - the most colorful racer

Strega has been a giant question mark in the off-season. First Tiger was retiring her, and then coming back. The flip-flops keep happening and all I can say is Matt Jackson will be the pilot. Allegedly Matt has sponsorship funding from his student, Tom Cruise. Yes, that Tom Cruise. Matt taught Tom to fly his P-51 Mustang, Kiss me Kate. Tom has always been a fan of the Air Races – so keep your eyes peeled and you just might see him in the Strega Pit (or maybe visiting Ruby?).

And then we have Rare Bear’s little sister, 232 – previously known as September Fury. This Sea Fury will be piloted by everyone’s favorite astronaut, Hoot Gibson. While Rare Bear has been spending her free time in Texas, 232 has been getting her attention from the team in Chino. Will she still sport her Rare Bear kill stickers from last year? Will she surprise everyone this year? We’ll have to wait and see.

Czech Mate is BACK.. yes, after a revamping of the wing and a few years of sitting on the sidelines, Sherman Smoot will be back in the Giant Killer. Czech is the meanest little Yak in the world. Fast, stealthy and small – she will likely be finishing near the top. Kudos to John Moore and Sherman (and the guys from Shafter Skunk Works) for persevering and coming back! Will this be their year?

Dreadnaught will be there, waiting for someone to blink so she can sneak by. The Buick will do more Buicking (hat tip Bruce Croft for the term). In other words, flying steady, every day and without wavering, will she be her faithful self and bring the Sanders family a win this year?

And then there is Precious Metal. Thom Richards and his team in Florida have been doing their magic to make the Griffon Powered Mustang sing. I know that Thom wants this win. He is very competitive and has his eye on the prize. Let’s see if he can bring it home.

The Giant Killer – Czech Mate

And then we have other very capable racers including Sawbones, Miss America and Argonaut. All of them are capable of getting into the Gold race. And of course, La Patrona, Rod Lewis’ beautiful Tigercat will be there. John Bagley is bringing back Ole Yeller. Doug Matthew will bring two of his Warbirds, including The Rebel and the Corsair. Sparky and the Sanders’ Bristol Powered Sea Fury, 924 will round out the entries.

All in all, this is a great group of racers to entertain us for the 50th Anniversary edition.


The Sport Class has so many entries; they will be running four races, instead of just the usual three. A Race Class which only appeared on the scene in 1998, they are the largest class and are quickly becoming the fan favorite (after the Unlimiteds and Biplanes – right?) With 14 Lancairs, 7 Glasairs and a smattering of several different makes and models, this group has something for everyone.  A Radial Rocket, Kevin’s NXT, a few RVs, Thunder Mustangs – and Shane Margraves is even bringing a Zlin 50! But, I still believe Jeff LaVelle will be our winner. John Parker in Blue Thunder, Lee Behel in his GP-5 and Craig Sherman in his Glasair may be the spoilers.


Aberle’s Phantom is the one to beat. He has been on the top of the leaderboard nearly every year since he unveiled his slick racer. The one year he had a hiccup, Jeff Lo was there to grab the trophy.

This year, the Bipes have several rookies with new and interesting aircraft. All I can say is wake up early and come out and watch the dawn racers.  

I will be flying my darling Pitts Special, Ruby. I’d like to give a big thank you to my crew for their loyal and tireless work again this year. You guys ROCK!

Ruby is ready – Thanks Crew!


Steve Senegal in Endeavor is the man to beat again this year. He will have some competition in the front from several of the newer racers. Justin Phillipson will be there in Outrageous. Elliot Seguin will be on hand with his new racer, Wasabi 2. Vito Wypraechtiger may have a trick up his sleeve with the Scarlet Screamer. Kevin Anderson and Lowell Slatter may be the ones – or will it be Steve Temple’s year?


Another healthy showing by the T6s – the field of 19 will have their characteristically close racing again. Returning veterans Dennis Buehn, John Zayac and Nick Macy will all be battling for the top spot. Let’s see what happens with this loud and proud group.


Twelve Jets are entered to race this year with all but one being L-29s and L-39s. The one that doesn’t look like the other ones is Lachie Onslow’s Iskra. Smart money is on Rick Vandam’s ride, #5 American Spirit. But, who knows – this could be Pete Zaccagnino’s year, or maybe Joe Gano or Phil Fogg will be on top. 

We’ll have to wait and see.

Wrap up…

That’s a quick look at what we have coming up this year. I hope this has increased your interest and we’ll all see you at the 50th. I know that the Reno Air Race Association (RARA) has put together a great show to commemorate a half century of Air Racing.

I wanted to give a special thanks to all my fellow Air Racers, Pilots, Owners, Crew Members for putting in the time and making this event so special every year. And to the people of RARA, thank you for not losing faith when the “going got tough”; to the volunteers for giving your time and working with all of us to make it happen; and to the fans who come out each year in heat, cold, rain, snow, and this year – smoke – to watch us do what we love. Thank you all – My September Family.

Our September Family

See you there,

Marilyn Dash
Ruby Red Racing

All Photos used this month are from Anthony Taylor of – Thank you, Hopper!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Innovation at the Reno Air Races...

With all the drama surrounding the transition from the old Unlimited Class to the new, the fans are forgetting about the other five classes of racing. I've decided to give focus this month’s column on the other classes, the innovators and racers who we don’t hear about on the forums. Who they are and what to look for this year – but let’s start with why the fans aren't as enamored with these classes, and why maybe they should be.

Air Racing through the years was always about technical advancements -- especially for civil aviation. Among the first races in the 1910’s, the draw was for inventors to show their wares and develop a name for themselves through their innovation. Thousands would flock to these events to watch the historic races and see how far aviation had changed since 1903 at Kitty Hawk.

Clearly the biggest draw to the National Championship Air Races each year is the Unlimited Class. But, when was the last time there was a technical advancement with far reaching implications in the Unlimited Class? I don’t think people are putting Allison rod engine parts in their Cessna or Cub.

The REAL innovation is in the other classes. These classes have full or nearly full fields – while the Unlimited Class is less than 2/3 of a full class.  They are developing new racers and focusing on innovation, technical advancements and winning.

But, why aren't the fans paying attention to them? Let’s review ..


Right now, the Jet Class has the course record for qualifying and fastest lap on the course. So, if it was only speed that attracts the fans – why aren't there more Jet Class fans?

In fact, the Sport Class winner would likely win the Unlimited Silver this year. So, the speeds aren’t really that much of determining factor these days.


NASCAR type paintjobs are always attractive, but we have seen classic paint schemes like Strega and Dreadnaught have their fan base. Wildly painted aircraft like Rare Bear, 232 and Voodoo also draw the fans.

But again, all of the other classes have their spectacular paint schemes also. Alan Crawford has one of my favorites in the Sport Class. So, that’s probably not the deciding factor.  

Alan Crawford and his beautifully painted Lancair Legacy

Thanks to Rob “Phred” Miller


Well, there you have it. The Unlimited Class does have loud airplanes – but so does the T6 Class. In fact, it’s easier to have a conversation during the Unlimited Gold (as if you would want to) than it is to chat amongst your seat mates during a T6 Bronze!


Of course Nostalgia for War World II aircraft may play a large role in the fan base. These planes bring so much emotion to a large number of people. Many pilots talk about the first time they saw a P-51 Mustang or a Corsair as one of the reasons they became a pilot. Yes, the drama, nostalgia and history around these aircraft does have its place in the hearts of fans.

More on Innovation

In the Sport Class, Jeff LaVelle has brought his Glasair III to amazing speeds. Andy Chiavetta has made great strides in Daryl Greenamyer’s Legacy. This year, Number 33 will be raced by Will Whiteside – an interesting detour for this Unlimited Class Race Pilot. What would make Will move to the Sport Class? I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but he has expressed that “Fun and Innovation” are a large part of the attraction. Apparently, it’s more fun to live on the cusp of great things than trying to keep 70 year old technology from imploding on a race course.

At this time, I’d say more Private Pilots are watching Andy and Jeff for innovation than the entire Unlimited Class!  They are watching because they are interested in what these new innovations can do FOR THEM.
In talking with Setrige Crawford, an Aerospace Engineer and builder/pilot/owner, he is drawn to the Sport Class. Having recently finished building a very fast, and very sweet Lancair Legacy, he is interested in what is happening and is trying to figure out how to translate it to his aircraft and potentially other Experimentals.   

Knowledgeable racing fans like Setrige, are watching the Thunder Mustangs to see what the Falconer V12 will do. When will that engine be available to the average homebuilder and what will the reliability be? What can be done with Andy’s geared engine in Race #33? How about the V8 development program that Lee Behel is working on with the GP-5? What ever became of Dave Morss’ Suburu powered racer?

Lee Behel’s GP-5: beautiful and innovative
Thanks to Rob “Phred” Miller

And in the IF1 and Biplane Classes, the unusual prop designs they are using have peaked his interest. Will these ever translate to the Experimental market?

More IF1

Years ago, David Hoover’s Endeavor was the New New thing in IF1. Later sold to Steve Senegal where the winning ways have continued.  We have recently seen Brian Reberry throw his hat into the ring with his September Fate. This year, we expect Elliot Sequin, a Jon Sharp protégé, to bring something pretty exciting. He has cloaked his project in secrecy so nothing is known yet, but we will see how he does in September.


Biplanes have seen moderate interest in building new designs. Tom Aberle and the Phantom are at the top of the Biplane list for several years. His Modified Mong could actually win the T6 Gold and place pretty well in the Unlimited Bronze. But, he still doesn’t have the accolades he deserves, in my opinion.

Jeff Lo and Cris Ferguson have the Miss Gianna project which raced one year and is undergoing changes currently. We do hope they will be back.


This brings me to Karl Grove. Karl was bitten by the racing bug when he purchased Dennis Vest’s Drag Racer a few years back. A very fast biplane to begin with – he has only increased the innovation and speeds. Dennis then brought up a design he was thinking about for years. Together they moved forward and the Boomerang was born.

Currently a project between Dennis Vest, Karl Grove, Bobby Graham, Craig Catto and a Professor at UFMG University in Brazil, Paulo Iscold, the Boomerang is an interesting project – not just because of its radical design (see rendering below) but because it is being used as an educational project for the students at UFMG!

Karl Grove’s new radical Biplane design
Team Boomerang

When I asked Karl, “WHY?” he said, “Why not!?” and went on to tell me about his quest for speed and innovation. There it is again, the thirst for innovation.


While we wait for the dust to settle in the Unlimited Class, think about the Racers further west on the ramp and come down to see where the real excitement is in Air Racing!

Next month, we’ll look closer at who, what and how fast while we get ready for the 50th Anniversary of the National Championship Air Races. Until then, fly low, fast and turn left.. but keep it under 250’, you know the rules.

And if you’re interested in helping to sponsor Ruby this year, get in touch with me. We can always use the help of our fans to make our little racer faster!

Marilyn Dash
Ruby Red Racing
Pylon Place 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

What does it all mean…

If you keep up with National Championship Air Racing (NCAR) news during the off season, you probably have read several press releases about the Unlimited Division of the National Air-racing Group (UD-NAG) and a Safety Stand Down for the 2013 NCAR. This was followed quickly by the announcement of the new Unlimited & Warbird Racing Class (UWRC). My goal in this column is to present to you a little history and hopefully answer some questions about the future of Unlimited Racing at Reno.  

History of NAG

The National Air racing Group was founded in the 1970’s by several Northern California air racing enthusiasts. Originally called the Northern Area Group of the Professional Race Pilots’ Association (PRPA), they later split off from PRPA and started their own group.  This organization grew to be the largest and most active air race organization, with over 2000 members scattered throughout the world. A recognized member of the International Council of Air Shows, NAG is a non-profit California corporation.

NAG offered their services to various racing classes, basically providing them with legal protection, support with race responsibilities and administrative matters as well as training officials, officiating, erecting pylons, facilitating negotiations with the FAA and assisting in designing and certifying new potential race venues.

Over time the other race classes left NAG and developed their own associations, (PRPA for Biplanes, Racing Jets, Inc., T-6 Racing Association, International Formula 1 Air Racing, and Sport Class Air Racing). The Unlimited Division is the only race class still directly associated with NAG.

At some point, NAG developed into more of a Fan Club for Air Racing, except for the Unlimited Division, which supported Unlimited Racing. UD-NAG is the governing body for Unlimited Racing. They are accredited by the FAA to speak for the race class. They are responsible for training and certification of the members for their class; they have their own rules, their own technical specifications and inspections. They operate as an umbrella organization for Race Pilots and Race Aircraft Owners and have fought for many years for the continued safe operations of Unlimited Racing.

How does this differ from what the Reno Air Racing Association (RARA) does? Well, RARA provides the venue. They provide overarching rules and structure and manage the event.

In a perfect world, these organizations would work together to bring exciting racing and a safe environment to the racers and the fans. As one race pilot said, “Keep the racers safe and you keep the public safe”.

A line up of P-51 Mustangs via Rob "Phred" Miller

What changed?

After the horrible Galloping Ghost crash of 2011, the FAA and RARA stepped in to alter the Unlimited (and Jet Class) Race Course. The changes were made to create more of a barrier from the deadlines, the areas that mark the outer boundary of our race course, and to allow for a great distance from the spectators.  

The goal was to “soften” the course and to keep things safer. What the pilots found, however, was that the course led to higher g-forces, instead of lower. They also found the old “Valley of Speed” was being tightened, especially as aircraft made the critical turn from pylons 7-8-9 to home.

The other issue was a maximum altitude restriction of 250’ (or 314’ on some areas of the course). The racers felt this altitude ceiling created an added complexity, as one of them put it – “We’re racing in a donut”. The minimum altitude is 50’ the max is 250’ so, 8 aircraft race inside a 200’ donut in the sky. So far, so good – until you consider that the average wingspan of an Unlimited Racer is between 40’ and 50’.

I use the example, Gold Heat 3A 2010, Strega’s average speed was over 473 mph and Here Kitty, Kitty and Bossman – two F7F Tigercats, were averaging 342 mph. So, as Steven Hinton in Strega was coming around the course, he was closing in on two Tigercats, both with over 50’ wingspans, with a closure rate of 130 mph. Pylon on the left, deadline on the right and a new maximum altitude ceiling above – where does he go?

When I asked what a racer was to do in that situation, I was told that “the overtaking racer should throttle back until he/she felt it was safe to pass”. This comment comes from someone who clearly doesn’t understand the fine line of detonation that is an Unlimited Racing Engine. We slowly move the throttle up, but we do not adjust up and down during the race. It’s all out, full throttle. It is unrealistic to “throttle back” – especially when you’re coming up on traffic at that incredible speed. And then, to be able to throttle back up – this scenario would certainly cause engine problems all over the course. Also, the how much time does it take an Unlimited Racing Engine to slow down 130 mph - who knows. 

The Issue

All the UD-NAG asked is that this wording is added to RARA’s Rules of Competition to say:

 “All racers are advised that deviations above the maximum race altitude will not result in a rules violation or penalty if such maneuver is deemed to be in furtherance of flying safety by the pilot in command and if such deviation is followed by a safe and reasonably prompt return to the maximum race altitude.”

Yep, that’s it. They wanted it to be in writing that if they needed to go above the 250’ AGL max for a safe passing line, or to get out of prop wash, or for whatever reason, that they would not be disqualified. They did not want it to be left to chance, they wanted their racers to know they could deviate if necessary, and they would not be violated. They also wanted to have the Unlimited Class provide input to the Contest Committee in case of an altitude deviation. The Unlimited Class knows the course, and the Contest Committee, while a professional and significant group of individuals, does not.

Unlimited Gold via Rob "Phred" Miller

What this means to racing

As UD-NAG has been saying since February, they wanted an answer by June 14, 2013 or they would convey to their members that they do not believe the course is safe. After safety discussions broke down, the UD-NAG Board voted unanimously to call for a Safety Stand Down. They told their members that the current rules proposed by RARA and the FAA may lead to an unsafe and potentially dangerous racing venue.

Absent the requested safety deviation rule, the UD-NAG believes the risk of another accident is too great to shoulder and therefore RARA, the FAA, UWRC and the UD-NAG Racers are on their own.

RARA countered with announcing the new Unlimited and Warbird Racing Class. It had to be done. Ticket sales were in jeopardy, questions about the safety stand down were flying and some kind of move had to be made.

But, what does it mean for September?

There are some unanswered questions. Is the new UWRC accredited by the FAA? Will they fly the course as it is without any changes?

Who will be on the Board of Directors for the new organization? The press release mentioned Bill “Tiger“ Destefani will be the President. But, who else will be involved? Is this organization part of RARA? If so, is that a conflict of interest?

How will the new organization certify racers? Will there be another PRS just for the new group? Who will join, who will not. What about the purse?

Who will be on the ramp in September? Who will stay home? When will we know?

Unlimiteds being towed out via Tim Adams

What happens next…

Right now, we wait and see. The hope is that this will all shake out and there will be Unlimited Racers on the Ramp in September.

Stay tuned, until then… fly low, fast and turn left – but don’t go over 250’ AGL. 

Marilyn Dash
Ruby Red Racing
The Pylon Place

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Another Great Planes of Fame Airshow and PRS Preview

Ignoring the naysayers, Planes of Fame goes right ahead and puts on an amazing Airshow – again. Nearly 40,000 people were in attendance to witness history and a terrific show.

Missing Man Formation
Thank you - Bruce Croft - 20W

This year, the Airshow celebrated the history of the Lockheed P-38 Lightning. There are only seven airworthy P-38s in the world today, and five of them were in the skies over the Chino Airport. Another P-38 on display, a photo-recon variant, made up the sixth P-38 at the show that weekend.

The formation of five was breathtaking. I don’t think we’ll ever see something like that again, sadly.

Five P38s - great shot Rob "Phred" Miller - thank you! 

The rest of the Airshow was also very exciting. Aerobatic performance from the great Sean D. Tucker was another highlight. Other aerobatic displays included Rob Harrison, John Collver, Clay Lacy’s Learjet routine and Margi Stiver’s terrific wingwalking with Lee Oman at the wheel.

Sean D. Tucker - The Happiest Man in Aviation

Another crowd favorite, the N9M Flying Wing – the only one of its kind in the world – is also exciting to watch. Three B-25s, two C-47s flying in formation and a beautiful PBY really added something to the show this year.

The Flying Wing - one of a kind!

As always, the aircraft are not the only stars of the day; the Airshow also honored several veterans’ groups during the event. Listening to them tell their tales of service is a great way to remember why they are The Greatest Generation.

Pilots and crew from the National P-38 Association, the 80th Fighter Group, the 91st Bomber Group, the 506th Fighter Group, and veterans sponsored by the Veterans History Project: John Knapp 44th Infantry, Celso Jaquez 6th Marines, Geoff Blackman VP-23 Navy, and Muriel Engelman Army Nurse were among the group sharing their stories.

P-38 Noses - Lined up at dawn
Thank you - Bruce Croft - 20W

Even with losing one of their largest sponsors this year, Planes of Fame put on another terrific event. I have already circled the first weekend in May 2014 and will be there again next year!

If you cannot attend their show, consider becoming a member and supporting their efforts. Go to their website and click on the JOIN button.

Reno Updates - PRS

It’s still too early to know who will be in attendance at the 50th Races. However, we do know that there are  RECORD number of Rookies attending the Pylon Racing Seminar (Rookie School) this year. Again, this is a very positive sign for the event that so many of us love. You should stay tuned for more information on what to expect.

We have heard that Breitling has increased their sponsorship of the Air Races – which is great news. They are also bringing Yves Rossy – the Breitling “Jetman”. This is something all of us want to see! Can you imagine a man with a jet pack flying the pylons? YES!

Other performers include The Patriots Jet Team, another crowd favorite. David Martin, Michael Goulian, Jim Pietz and the amazing antics of Kent Pietsch will round out the show.

If you haven’t purchased your tickets yet, what are you waiting for? We will see you in September to celebrate the Reno Air Races 50th Anniversary. I can’t wait!

Thanks again to my wonderful photographer friends, this month Bruce Croft and Rob Miller were kind enough to donate their artwork for us to share. This column would not be the same without friends.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Sequester and Airshows

We recently learned that the Blue Angels, the USAF Thunderbirds, the Golden Knights and all the Military Demo Teams have cancelled their entire Airshow season due to the Sequester. The Military will not take part in Airshows in any way – not static displays, not flying, nothing.  This information has sent the Airshow Industry back to their drawing boards to see how they can move on from here.

The Military Demonstration Teams are an enormous draw for these events.  Military Teams can increase attendance by up to 30% while bringing many attendees from long distances which increase tourism for their cities.  The draw for the communities is estimated to be a minimum of $2M in tourism, hotels, restaurants, etc.

John Cudahy, President of the International Council of Air Shows (ICAS) has said, "If the military does not participate in Airshows during the 2013 season, the economic impact will reach far beyond the show itself and deeply into the communities in which those shows are held.”

We can point to what Fleet Week is like in San Francisco with the Blue Angels. The entire town (except for the haters) comes out for the waterside party. The streets are crowded, the hotels and restaurants are full – and now… it’s also cancelled.

Christine Falvey, spokeswoman for San Francisco’s Mayor Ed Lee, said last month, Fleet Week attracts over 1 million spectators and its loss could have a major economic impact on San Francisco.

Those are the hard numbers, but let’s look at the less tangible impact. The original mission of these teams was always based in recruiting. However, this mission has grown to include a sense of National Pride. During these amazing performances, most people feel a sense of Patriotism. There is rarely a dry eye in the house while watching an impressive fly- over at an athletic event – chests swelling with pride for our country during our National Anthem.

What does that mean to the local Airshows?

In a recent poll taken by AVWeb, an internet aviation news service, only 7 percent of the respondents said, No Jet Teams, No Attendance. The rest were more positive, 54% saying they would attend with or without the teams, 24% said it would dependent on the quality of the rest of the show. So, nearly 80% are willing to go to a show, if we make it creative, interesting and exciting enough without the jets.  

Some Airshows decided to just cancel the event this year and either revamp or hope for better times in 2014. Other shows have gotten out their thinking caps and decided to use creativity to bring the crowds back this year.

Deb Mitchell was the Director of Marketing for AirshowBuzz and is now the Managing Partner of Latitude 31. She said, “There will be shows that rise to the challenge and press forward with modifications. Then there will be those who say it's impossible to make money without a jet team. My money is on the shows that reduce their spending, increase sponsorship and design creative marketing plans to lure people to an incredible family event.”  

She continued by saying, “The way forward is not easy but it's exciting to be able to re-invent your act or your show possibly attracting an entirely new audience.”  

What does this all mean to your favorite Civilian Airshow Performers?

Civilian Airshow Performers can be categorized into three distinct groups. The first group would be the highly sponsored acts such as Sean D. Tucker sponsored by Oracle and others, Kirby Chambliss flying for Red Bull and Michael Goulian for Goodyear Aviation, to name a few. This group has a contract with their sponsors that can include what Airshows and Events they need to fly as well as other Corporate Activities. They will likely not be impacted too badly this year, but if this austerity program continues, we may see a fall in sponsorship of these types of acts in the future.

Performers who have a full time job and fly airshows on weekends are in the next group. Many of the members of this group fly for an airline, which allows them additional flexibility – but there are also 9-5’ers who fly a desk Monday – Friday and then pack up and head out to their local show. Again, this group will survive this year – but their future may be in jeopardy also.

The final group consists of Performers who live day in and day out on their Airshow jobs. This group will be heavily impacted.  In speaking with several of the Performers, some have seen 30-50% of their shows cancelled for this year. This could be devastating to Performers in all groups.

How can Performers become more creative to expand their show base? In speaking with Skip Stewart, he mentioned expanding his geographical footprint. This year alone, Skip will fly in 6 different countries including many locations in Latin America and the Caribbean.  He will be joined by Kyle Franklin at their first show ever in California (Minter Field, May 11-12). While this means being away from home for longer periods of time, he feels it is worth it to bring his style of flying to more people. I applaud his creativity and his tenacity.

What should Airshows do to survive?

As Debbie Mitchell mentioned, creativity, marketing and sponsorship will be keystones in the future.

Darcy Brewer, Executive Director at California Capital Airshow, agrees and takes it further.

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom…not even federal budget restrictions will stop the 2013 California Capital Airshow from performing for the loyal and eager fans of the Sacramento region (and far beyond) this October 5-6 at Mather Airport.

We realize these are both exciting and challenging times for the air show industry.  It’s the ideal time for the industry as a whole to re-invent itself, be creative, roll up its sleeves, and remember why we produce these special events in the first place

·         to honor our veterans and heroes by sharing their stories and experiences
·         to inspire and educate our young people with any amazing asset we can share
·         to passionately share a century of aviation history and American ingenuity with our treasured guests

I encourage everyone to please take a weekend drive with your family this summer and support an industry that needs you by attending an airshow or two.  By doing so, you will show these dedicated teams and their armies of volunteers how much you appreciate their tireless commitment regardless of what’s going on in Washington.

Thank you, Darcy. I couldn't have said it better myself. So, I’ll let her words finish off this column.  
Hopefully, I’ll see all of you at an Airshow or two this season.  

Marilyn Dash
Pylon Place 
Ruby Red Racing

Special thanks to Bruce Croft for his excellent photography. These pictures were taken at Airshows around the country and are meant to show the importance of Airshows to our next generation.