Blue Ribbon Panel Formed by RARA

Jet Class TS-11 Iskra

The Reno Air Race Association (RARA) announced on January 4, 2012 the formation of a Blue Ribbon Review Panel to study the events occurring around the tragic accident on September 15, 2011 that took the life of pilot Jimmy Leeward and 10 fans on the ground and injured more than 60 spectators.

The panel will examine any possible changes or modifications that could be made to enhance the already high level of safety established by the FAA and existing RARA procedures.

Headed by former Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Jim Hall, and former
Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Nick Sabatini, the four members of the panel bring a wide breadth and depth of experience.

The panel also includes Steve Hinton, the current pace plane pilot in the Unlimited Class and a highly‐acclaimed movie stunt pilot, aviation choreographer, two‐time national Unlimited Air Race Champion and John Sharp, an Aeronautical Engineer and a pilot with the most wins in the history of air racing.

RARA also announced that, despite many challenges in the near and long‐term future, they are planning to hold the 49th Annual National Championship Air Races at the Reno‐Stead Airfield.

In a statement made by President and CEO of RARA, Mike Houghton stated, “Buoyed by the overwhelming support of the victims and families of last year’s terrible tragedy, our sponsors, air race participants and fans and aviation enthusiasts all over the world, we are absolutely committed to doing everything we can to hold this historic event in 2012. The safety of our fans and pilots has always been our foremost and primary concern, which is why we feel so strongly about a blue ribbon review. This effort is not designed to interfere or duplicate the efforts of the National Transportation Safety Board and we will continue to cooperate with them to the fullest extent.”

The panel conducted its first meeting shortly after the press conference and will release its preliminary results and recommendations to RARA within the next 90 days, allowing race officials to study them before the event’s annual Pylon Racing Seminar (PRS) in June, 2012.

Steve Hinton - Pilot

T-33 Pace Plane – Unlimited Class

Steve Hinton Sr. – Blue Ribbon Panelist – Unlimited Class Pace Plane Pilot

Landing for Heritage Display – Grumman A-6 Intruder Partially Loaded – All Weather Attack Aircraft for US Navy & US Marine Corps

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

Jet Pilot Heather Penney and 9/11…Ten Years Ago Today

Pilot Heather Penney is in the news today about her mission to stop the 9/11 hijackers of United Flight 93 ten years ago today.  Quoting Heather, “I was prepared to die for my country; it’s something everyone else would have done if they were in my shoes.” 

She and her commanding officer were ordered to stop Flight 93 from hitting the intended target – the Nation’s Capitol on September 11, 2001. The remarkable courage of Penny (and her commanding officer So Col. Marc Sasseville) is evidenced by their intention to stop flight 93 without the use of ammunition, missals or rockets – of any kind. They agreed to use their jet aircraft to stop the doomed airliner. Penny was quoted saying, “He planned to strike the plane’s cockpit, I opted for its tail.” What they didn’t know at the time was that sadly the airliner had already crashed in Pennsylvania.

 (Read more of AP writer Martin Griffith’s story in the HUFFPOST POLITICS

 Penny is indeed an American hero. Her intense personal devotion in her service to the United States of America as a Lieutenant with the Air National Guard’s 121st Fighter Squadron is beyond remarkable – She served two tours in Iraq while being a single mother…. Her family is tight knit and exceptionally dedicated to one another.

 Heather will being flying her second year in the Jet Class in the beautiful L-29 Raju Grace, Race #21. She placed second in her jet class last year – not bad for a rookie!  We’ll be posting more photos and videos of this remarkable family beginning next week. In the meantime, if you haven’t already, check out our Reno 2010 interviews Heather Penney and her mom Stephanie Penney.

 Next week at the Reno National Championship Air Races we’ll follow up with Heather and her mom Stephanie and the other fantastic pilot in the family – John Penney, who is also a former Military Pilot and now Pilot of Rare Bear and four time Unlimited Class winner at the Reno Races.

 We look forward to your continued comments about Heather, her family and all the other amazing pilots racing at Reno National Championship Air Races.

 Good Luck and God’s Speed to all~

 Kimberley West, WarBirdBabe

Hello Race Fans! Only Five More Days to Go!

…Less days if you’re a dedicated fan and in the gates for Monday, September 12, 2011 Qualifying Starts!

Once again the Reno National Championship Air Races have lined up a fantastic race event with our beloved Pilots, Planes and Jets…with many race course records to shatter from last year… we all look forward to new race records and an incredible performance line-up for the air shows!

Qualifications for all six classes will begin on Monday, September 12th and will continue through Wednesday, September 14th. All pilots will be required to fly their course and record their times in conjunction with the official time keepers to establish their Bronze, Silver and Gold heat placements.

Races begin daily at 8 a.m. with Biplane and Formula One Class races – the remaining four classes, T-6, Sport, Unlimited and Jet follow later with Aerobatics and Flight Demonstrations mixed in rounding out the remainder of the day. All you seasoned Race Fans know schedules can change on a dime – for those visiting for the first time, races starts are approximate! Lots of variables in this action packed week!

We’ll see the spectacular US Air Force Thunderbird Demonstration Squadron arrive on Wednesday, September 14th and perform a practice routine which is scheduled for 3:00 p.m. and lasting about one hour. On Thursday, September 15th they will perform their amazing and beautiful routine at about 12:45 for approximately 45 minutes.

Sadly, the F22 Raptor will not be performing in Reno this year. The US Air Force has grounded the Jets due to mechanical issues. They truly are incredible performance machines – with mind blowing maneuvers…and pilots.

Another fantastic performance fly-by you won’t want to miss is the F/A-18E Hornet Legacy practice demo on Friday, September 15the and on Saturday, September 16th the F/A-18E Hornet Legacy Flight. This should be a crowd pleaser as this is the 100th Anniversary of Naval Aviation…Wow! Be sure to visit the Static and Heritage Displays of incredibly restored Vintage Aircraft – this year should have the best ever collection of War Birds – I’m hoping to see some of the early aircraft flown 100 years ago!

The Navy Parachute Team will perform their Leap Frog Exhibition which is made up of 14 jumpers – they’ll deploy at 5000 feet, free falling from 12,000 feet and create a variety of canopy shapes on their way down.

David Martin will fly an amazing aerobatic show in his Extra 300S sponsored by Breitling and the Patriot Formation Team will fly the beautiful L-39’s in a choreographed formation. Jim Piets will fly his Aerobatic Beechcraft F33C Bonanza and Eddie Abdreini will fly his Stearman Biplane with eye popping aerobatic maneuvers – double snap rolls, double outside loops, torque rolls and something called the “WOPCEVOK” – an end over tumble maneuver …crazy…!

For those who like big trucks on fire, you’ll be treated to the 7000 pound Shockwave Jet Truck. It has the capacity to accelerate at 3 G’s vertical – comparable to the Space Shuttle, but will simply race airplanes at 300 mph…did I mention it has 18,000 pounds of thrust?! Does it sound like a rocket?

There is much more to see and enjoy at this years National Champonship Air Races and Air Show. This year WarBirdBabe will capture comments from Race Fans on video as well as Pilots from all race classes and many WWII Living Legends and Historians – maybe a few astronauts too.  We’ll be posting many more photographs this year – of all kinds, with lots of Pylon shots!

Have fun and celebrate the Reno Races with Joy and Respect for those who have given so much for our armed services, then and now, and for all those who every year bring to life to the amazing aircraft and share their passion for flying with Race Fans all over the world.

If you can’t make it to the Reno Races, please come back and visit WarBirdBabe – we hope to post many thrilling moments for your enjoyment throughout this week and throughout the coming year. Please leave a message and let us know what you’d like to see – we’ll do our best to search it out and post it!

All the best to you Race Fans! …and Go Navy!
Good Luck and God’s Speed to all who will fly in the sky…

Kimberley West

WarBirdBabe Blog Stats – 2010 in Review

Hello and Happy New Year WarBirdBabe Followers!

We thought you might like to see our viewer statistics for 2010.  I thought they were interesting and encouraging since we’re a “one gal show” at this point – with lots of room for expanding our photo galleries and stories.  

We would love to hear your thoughts about the blog, perhaps suggest some interviews you’d like to see in the future, or request postings of  your favorite War Bird Aircraft and last, but not least,  storey topics you’d like covered. 

We’d also like to post your interesting photos of  War Bird Aircraft or Military Service Men and Women.   All we need is an accurate description of who, what, where and when … and, if you don’t have all the details, perhaps one of our WarBirdBabe followers may have the answers you need!

Currently we’re editing a fantastic two-hour interview with Bob Hoover where he discusses the humble beginnings of the Reno National Championship Air Races and his current business venture. 

Another video will air this year with Jet Pilot Curt Brown and Journalist Guy Clifton of the Reno Gazette. 

We’ll also be posting more than 500 photos throughout the year from the recent Air Races and are in the process of accumulating photos from the archives of fans whose parents and/or grandparents served in WWII as Bomber Pilots and/or Crew.

Many thanks to all who have provided interviews and to those who have visited the WarBirdBabe blog and have taken the time to make comments in 2010 – we appreciate that very much. 

We hope to see you again and again in 2011 and look forward to providing an outstanding War Bird Aviation site – one worth telling your aviation friends about and visiting often!

God Bless and God Speed to all for this new year…

Kimberley West – WarBirdBabe


The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Fresher than ever.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 3,200 times in 2010. That’s about 8 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 20 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 29 posts. There were 107 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 4gb. That’s about 2 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was September 20th with 136 views. The most popular post that day was Photo Gallery from Photog Jim Loveless.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were,,,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for heather penney, blue angels, steve hinton jr, rare bear, and tom aberle phantom.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Photo Gallery from Photog Jim Loveless September 2010


Interview with Heather Penney Pilot of L-29 Raju Grace October 2010


Saturday, September 19, 2009 – Morning Photos & Heat Results September 2009
1 comment


Thursday, September 17, 2009 – Racing Starts at National Championship Air Races! September 2009


Tuesday, September 15, 2009 – Qualification Day Three! September 2009

Video Interview with Stephanie Penney – Wife of Unlimited Pilot John Penney & Mother of Jet Pilot Heather Penney


On Saturday – the last big day of racing at Reno this year, I snagged a moment of Mrs. Penney’s time while her Husband John Penney was visiting his favorite fans in Section 3

 Saturday was hot – about 98 degrees.  It was mid day in the direct sun and Stephanie was so sweet to indulge me as I placed her behind the box seats in front of the Section 3 fans.  Her back was to her husband who just happened to be wowing long time fans by signing tee-shirts, caps, bodies, programs, taking photos, shaking hands, or whatever…  it’s Section 3 after all…

John Penney being the accessible pilot for which he’s known, takes time each year to personally meet and greet the loyal race fans of Section 3.  You can see some love for the fans in the background of this video interview.

 For years I have been watching Stephanie & John Penney walk hand in hand from the pits to the tarmac line where the Rare Bear sits waiting to be flown in Sunday’s final big race.  (The only time media is allowed to be close to all the aircraft at race start.)

 Even though the gregarious Pilot John Penney shakes hands with all other pilots, RARA officials, Pace Pilot Steve Hinton Sr., the friends, crew and some long-time photographers with whom he’s made friends; Stephanie is always the last person to touch her husband before he enters the cockpit of the Rare Bear

 I so admire passion when I see it in others.  Observing only a small sliver of time, I’ve witnessed the mother load of passion in the Penney family. I’ve seen a quiet ritual between them for many years.  

With a small kiss and a few spoken words, they share a confirmation of knowing the inherent risks and potential dangers in the next flight.  And in so knowing, choose to embrace the shared passion of flying with a meaningful moment of understanding, support and affirmation of what is most important: each other

 So there is my inspiration for wanting to talk with Stephanie Penney.  Now that she has two members of her family flying, I thought it would be interesting to learn how she copes with the stress, if any, and see if there really are rituals that keep the family strong. 

 Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us Stephanie!

 Good Luck and God’s Speed to the Flying Penney’s! 

Interview with George Andre: Former SR-71 Test Pilot, Owner/Pilot of Race 3 “Zipper” a Pitts S-1C

George Andre is a fun-loving, serious pilot whom I throughly enjoyed talking with early in the week at Reno.

George is the oldest pilot racing in any of the six classes presented at the Reno Air Races and most likely is one of only a handful of men racing who have flown, within the earths atmosphere, at +2,200 mph – about mach 2.2.

George has quite a collection of aircraft experiences, knowledge and skill under his belt and still yearns to fly the fast-moving jets screaming overhead throughout the week – like the screeching F-18 heard during this interview.

George, a former fighter pilot, flew one of his favorite aircraft of all, an F-86 while in the service.  Other aircraft included the F104, F101 Voodoo, and George – a man of skill and nerves of steel, was a test pilot for the F104 Starfighter (a rocket with wings…also capable of mach 2.4).

In 1960 George worked for Lockheed as a Test Pilot and then moved on to Skunk Works where he worked with aeronautical genius  Kelly Johnson and as a Flight Test Engineer racking up over 55 hours of flight time in the SR-71.   (Did you know the SR-71 flew at an altitude of over 85,000 feet?!)  Listen to his description of what the earth looks like from that height and the incredible speed he flew.

George is honored to have been inducted into the Mach 3 Club as its 16th member by Kelly Johnson.  What incredible aviation experiences this man possesses- and he’s here,  flying a Bi-plane in the Reno Races.

I hope you enjoy this 9 minutes of interesting stories – I only wish I could release the other half hour of conversation about the secrete projects, area 51’s Groom Lake and things that go bump in the night…but if I did, I think the men in black might track me down…

tee hee hee…!