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National Championship Air Races and Air Show

Reno, Nev. September 12-15, 2002


By: Connie Pardew - Aviation/Features Writer


Freedom was flying high in mid-September at the 39th annual National Championship Air Races and Air Show in Reno, Nev.

The September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks grounded the air races last year, but this year's event, deemed "A Race to Remember" brought together racers for six different classes from across the country as well as a variety of aerobatic acts and military demonstrations.

This year's event was dedicated to the memory of Moya Olsen Lear, longtime supporter of the air races who passed away at the age of 86.

Lear held six honorary doctorate degrees and was an inductee in the Women in Aviation Pioneers Hall of Fame.

She authored the autobiographical work, Bill and Moya Lear: An Unforgettable Flight.
The National Championship Air Races awarded a record $800,000 in prize money.

2002 marked a first of the invitational jet class race, featuring the L-39 Albatros.

First flown in 1968, this aircraft will pull 5.5 G's. More than 2,000 were built and saw widespread use as a trainer by Warsaw Pact countries and have recently become popular as a private jet.

The winner of the inaugural race was Curt Brown, an airline pilot from Alvin, Texas. He reached a speed of 456 mph.

The popular unlimited class featured modified North American P-51's, Hawker Sea Fury's and Yakolev's.

This year's winner, Skip Holm of Calabasas, Calif. flew his P51, Dago Red with a top speed of 466 mph.
Holm won the Unlimited Class in 2000.

Another class of racers, the T-6's, were used as advance trainers during World War II.

No matter what racing class or speed is represented the pilots fly only a few feet apart-virtually wing to wing in some cases.

"You have to make sure you don't bump fenders," said T-6 pilot Al Goss of Bakersfield, Calif.

"You have to have confidence in other pilots and be predictable."

On Friday a fatal crash took the life of Tommy Rose of Hickory, Miss. Rose, in his Questair Venture was on the fifth lap of Sport Class race #3 when his plane apparently got caught in wake turbulence, which caused it to assume the porpoise maneuver. This caused the tail to fall off. The plane went down about 100 yards southeast of the home pylon.

Rose was a former fighter pilot and member of the Mississippi Air National Guard. He had been competing in the sport class since its inception in 1998.

Fifteen former astronauts including Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Gene Cernan and Vance Brand gathered for a reunion

"We're having a lot of fun here," Brand said. "It's great getting the NASA people together."

The various demonstrations included the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. Named the missile with the man in it, the Starfighters streaked across the skies over Reno.

Lead pilot, Rick "Comrade" Svetkoff said of the plane, "There is nothing like it."

The first Starfighters were put into service in 1958 and was the product of famed aircraft designer Kelly Johnson. It can reach an altitude of 92,000 feet.

Air show crowd favorite, Ken Pietsch performed his popular comedy routine in his bright yellow Interstate Cadet.

Pietsch astounded the crowd with his low level gyrations, complete with aircraft parts falling off during the performance.

The much anticipated Hughes H-1 replica set a record Friday.

The plane, based on one that Howard Hughes built in 1935 sped over a three-kilometer course at 304.04 mph.

The Hughes H-1 was designed for record setting purposes, but it has also had an impact of the design of high performance aircraft.

The original H-1 is on exhibit at the Golden Age of Flight gallery of the National Air and Space Museum.

On Sunday The Nevada Army National Guard broke an altitude record previously set by the Russians in 1985.

Their two-engine C-12 T3 Beech Super King climbed to an altitude of 33,000 feet.

The record required the aircraft to have a take-off weight of from 13,228 pounds to 19,841 pounds.

The dates for the 2003 National Championship Air Races are September 11-14.


For more information visit: www.airrace.org



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