Tragedy at the Reno Air Races Friday, September 16, 2011

Jimmy Leeward Pilot, Galloping Ghost, Race 177 - Photo taken 9/14/10 by Andy Martin

At approximately 4:20 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 16, during Unlimited Class Gold Heat, the P-51 Mustang “Galloping Ghost,” piloted by Jimmy Leeward, crashed into the box seat area in front of the main grandstand.

Jimmy Leeward & Galloping Ghost, 2011 - Photo taken 9/15/11 by Andy Martin

It was a mass casualty situation and local emergency personnel were on the scene immediately.  All aspects of the horrific situation were handled swiftly and professionally by the Reno Air Racing Association (RARA) staff.  The Executive Committee, Police Chief, Fire Marshall officials, FAA, NTSB, Reno Mayor and Nevada Governor were convened in the media center to review the situation and prepare official statements.

Mike Houghton, CEO and President of RARA gave two press conferences and extended his deepest sympathies and condolences to all of the families involved in the tragic accident.  “The Air Races are truly one big family and our thoughts are with all of our aviation family members, immediate and extended.” – just some of the official comments provided in last night’s press conference.

Because of this very sad time this is all I can say… For now, you may view the second press conference video from last night here.  (sorry, wordpress is upgrading their system so we can’t upload the video press conference until Monday, September 19, 2011) 

Later I will post many beautiful photographs taken by many of my fellow photographers.

My deepest condolences to those who have lost their loved ones and to the family of Jimmy Leeward.

Kimberley West, WarBiordBabe

204th Airlift Squadron Arrives at Reno September 15, 2011

Yesterday the 204th Air Lift Squadron flew into the Reno National Air Championship Races and Air Show and I had the pleasure to meet and photograph a few of the handsome young men serving our country.  I caught them as they were touring the pits in their “Mule” collecting Reno Race mementoes and admiring the War Birds like the rest of us.

204th Air Lift Squadron and their "MULE"

From left to right:  Chief Master Sargent Alan R. Ogata; Captain “EHU” (call letters) Eric Thorstad – F-22 Pilot; Staff Sargent & Load Master Makaio Roberts; Captain Britton Komine – C-17 Pilot; Captain MG Namocot – C17 Pilot.

The men are stationed in Hawaii and make the annual trip to Reno to show off their version of a War Bird! The huge C-17 Cargo Plane is located in the military static display for everyone to see inside and out and meet the crew.

Included in the group is Captain Eric  EHUThorstad an F-22 Pilot who is not part of the 204th.  Captain Thorstad has accumulated 11 hours of flight time in the incredible F/A-22 Raptor.   He recently graduated from the F-15E Eagle Advanced Attack Aircraft (a McDonnell Douglas  fighter jet originally built with a secondary air-to-ground capability now used mainly for air to air duty in service) to the F/A-22 Raptor built by Lockheed Martin.

Captain Eric "EHU" Thorstad, Pilot F/A-22 Raptor

This year the greatly anticipated Reno F/A-22 air show was cancelled much to the disappointment of all Race Fans.  I asked if Captain Thorstad could elaborate on the “mechanical issues” reason for the stand down – evidently, an F-22 performing a standard training mission crashed in Alaska several months ago and sadly the pilot perished.

The final report of the incident remains pending and for now speculation is that the “life support” system failed, providing only 10% of the required oxygen to the breathing apparatus.  Until the report is complete and all modifications implemented, all F-22’s are grounded.  The good news is that the Air Force anticipates resumed flight as early as this Monday –  the bad news, one day late for the Reno air performance.

Captain Thorstad not only commands attention in his flight suit and with his striking good looks but also with his firey red hair!  10 year old Robbie the Red Head couldn’t resist meeting, the opportunity for an autograph and a handshake from a real F-22 Pilot!  When asked which airplanes are his favorite at the Reno Races, he replied, “I like the Fast Ones!  The Jets and the Thunderbirds are my favorites!”

Robbie the Redhead & Captain Eric "EHU" Thorstad, Pilot, F-22 Raptor

That my friends is why I love the Reno Races – to see the joy in the eyes of a new generation of future pilots and for the eyes of the young to see the rich aviation heritage we have as a nation – which can be seen here at the National Championship Air Races and Air Show

Good Luck and God’s Speed to Robbie the Redhead and his aviation future!

Kimberley West, WarBirdBabe

BiPlane and Formula Qualification Day Photos

Yesterday was a beautiful day for flying and photographs were plentiful – here’s a sampling of a few beauties!

Formula 1 Start - September 14, 2011 Final Qualifications - Photo by Michael Jennings

Race 592, Little Tony the Tiger, Cassutt III M - Photo by Michael Jennings

Race 99, PittsS-1S Ultimate

Race 99, PittsS-1S Ultimate, Photo by Michael Jennings

Quell Altra, Race 9, PittsS-1S - Photo by Michael Jennings

Race 55, Flutterbug, Pitts S-1S - Photo by Michael Jennings

Final Qualification Day – September 14, 2011

Furious, Race 15, Hawker Sea Fury - Photo by Michael Jennings

Clear Sky’s for this final day of qualifications for all classes!  Yesterday was intermittently stormy
with beautiful story book clouds – great for pictures, but no so good with aircraft.  The Jet Class was temporarilygrounded when lightning strikes were too close for comfort.

Today is also the first day the Pilots will be flying in their official Heats for each class except Jets and Unlimited Classes – those will complete tomorrow.

Three to five Unlimited aircraft that have qualified are experiencing some mechanical difficulties and are unsure if the mechanical challenges will be remedied before official racing starts.  Rumor has it there are three alternate Unlimited Aircraft available, if required, to fill in for those “bumped” planes.
The alternates will have to start from the bottom and work their way through the Bronze, Silver and Gold positions.   You can bet many crews will be working late tonight!

Enjoy pictures from today’s qualifications – and stay tuned for many more tomorrow and an awesome interview with Jet Pilot Heather Penney.

T-28B, The Bear, Race 66 - Photo by Michael Jennings



National Aviation Heritage Invitational


September 13, 2011

The National Aviation Heritage Invitational has an impressive lineup of historical aircraft at the Reno Races.  Rare planes dating back to the 1920’s along with powerful war birds are vying for the prestigious Rolls-Royce Aviation Heritage Trophy.  According to Charlie Marks, Director of Operations for the Invitational, some of the VIP presenters will include Dick Rutan*, Herb Keller – Former South West CEO, Clay Lacy**, Bud Anderson – WWII Ace and maybe an astronaut or two…

The National AviationHall of Fame’s ‘People’s Choice trophy is awarded to the owner of the aircraft
which receives the most votes from the public review the aircraft during the Invitational.  You can vote for your favorite until September 17that 5:00 pm.

Stinson Modeln O (Brad Poling, Owner)

Stinson Model O Replica

*Dick Rutan –
Commander of Voyager – first ever non-stop, unrefueled flight around the word
the world in 9 days, 3 minutes and 44 seconds, between December 14 and December 23, 1986.

A world record distance that remains unchallenged today.

**Clay Lacy –
Experimental test pilot, pilot in feature films (Top Gun and many more), United
Airlines #1 pilot, unchallenged holder of the highest number or flight hours of
any active pilot, entrepreneur – this year he’ll perform his Lear jet at the
Reno Races.

1952 Douglas Skyraider AD-5 A

We’ll be posting more photographs as these beautiful aircraft as they arrive arrive  –  Until then,  here’s a list of some of the beautifully restored testaments to our rich aviation legacy at the National Aviation Heritage Invitational:

Large – 1951 Grumman Albatross HU-16B

1943 Fairchild PT-19 (M62)

Military – 1944 North American Aviation SNJ-5C

Military 1943 Curtis-Wright P-40M Kittyhawk

1952 Douglass Skyraider Ad-5 (A-1E)

Military 1938 Grumman F3F-2

Antique – 1937 Spartan Executive 7W

Classic – 1945 Grumman Widgeon