The Neil A. Armstrong Aviation Heritage Trophy Unveiled Today at the Reno Races!

The Board Members of the National Aviation Hall of Fame announced the Neil A. Armstrong Aviation Heritage Trophy will be unveiled and presented to the Grand Champion of the 14th Annual National Aviation Heritage Invitational competition during the 2012 presentation ceremony which will be held today at the 2012 National Champion Air Races.

Ken Kaplan, Deputy Director of the NAHI and Enshrinement Director for the National Aviation Hall of Fame, noted that Neil Armstrong greatly admired the vintage aircraft which participated in the annual competition, “He always enjoyed personally presenting the trophies to the owners of the winning aircraft,” said Kaplan.  “Neil was proud to represent the Hall of Fame with his fellow Enshrinees, and delighted to be among fellow aviators and the fine vintage aircraft they lovingly restored.”

NAHI has held annual vintage aircraft competitions in both Dayton, Ohio and Reno, Nevada since 1999.  At each competition, the Grand Champion who’s aircraft has been judged to be the most authentic  example of a vintage aircraft restored to airworthy condition, has been awarded the Rolls-Royce  Aviation Heritage Trophy, which resides throughout the year at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Washington DC.

The National Aviation Hall of Fame partnered with Rolls-Royce North America, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, the Reno Air Racing Foundation and many aviation related organizations to establish and support the National Aviation Heritage Invitational, which was created to foster the preservation of our rich aviation history by encouraging the restoration of vintage aircraft to airworthy condition.

The owners of the vintage aircracft were thrilled to have been presented the their well deserved trophy a Hall of Fame Enshrinee and especially the first man to walk on the moon.

We are all greatly saddened by the passing of Mr. Armstrong, a humble man, a national hero, a legend.

God’s Speed and thank you to all who love the beautiful vintage aircraft and those who make it possible for everyone to enjoy and admire the aircraft and especially those who flew them…

Kimberley West, Warbirdbabe

2011 Winner Bleriot XI, Chuck Wentwhorth

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

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



Interview with Heather Penney Pilot of L-29 Raju Grace

What a pleasure it was to interview Heather Penney while at Reno this year.  She was quite a sought-after woman on this her debut year of racing at the National Championship Air Races flying Raju Grace, a beautiful L-29 in the Jet Class.

I was pleasantly surprised by her graceful manner in handling the multitude of photographers, press and fans who were literally screaming for a moment of her time – wanting photos, autographs, interviews and any conversation with her – almost as thought many would be satisfied if they could just look into those pretty eyes!

I met Heather while out photographing color (fans) for RARA.  All  of a sudden, I heard a big commotion the grandstands to my left.  Fans were hooting and hollering, people were standing up and waving.  Then, ever so slightly, I could make out the name the fans were shouting…”Heather – Hey Heather!”  I turned around and wouldn’t you know it, there was Heather, flanked by a photographer no less, walking through the box seats towards the pits, everyone within ear-shot going wild!

Of course I seized the moment…(opportunity)…being a fan myself, and journalist…  quickly I turned around and immediately began taking her photograph…wouldn’t you?  “This one will make it into the program next year, ” I thought to myself with serendipitous excitement!  In my mind I was shouting, “Get out-of-the-way! I wish that flippen photog would just move already..!”  Somehow he read my mind and moved to the side – evidently I have a powerful unspoken language.  I was able to get an uncluttered photograph of Heather in her smart, army green flight suit…with the name of the aircraft she was flying hand written on her leather name plate.

To my amazement Heather approached me with her giant smile and introduced herself.  In turn I asked if she wouldn’t mind a modest interview for the WarBirdBabe Blog.  Quite straight-faced she asked me to hold on for a moment while she looked at her schedule on her “Palm Pilot.”  …While waiting and observing this tiny woman I wondered how in the world she handles the G’s in the L-29 and F-16’s she flies for the Air National Guard?   Finally I noticed she found her pen.  She asked me what would be a good time for the interview and then, wrote the note to herself on her palm…a.k.a  the “Palm Pilot”  …That was a good one.  Down to earth and funny…  Then she followed up with, “OK, that’s 2:30 by the jet – see you then!… and by the way, my mom and dad (Pilot John Penney) are in Section 3 if you want to interview her (Heather’s mom)!” 

So the graceful Pilot Heather Penney gave me an interview under the wing of the L-29 Raju Grace she’s flying this year. (Only after asking me if I wouldn’t mind if she quickly spoke to an old family friend, someone whom she hadn’t had the opportunity to see yet at the races… a General Sherman I think she said as she ran up to him…and, after having just completed a lengthy video interview in the hot 98 degree sunshine, tarmac radiating heat (and melting shoes), with reflective video panels purposefully shinning on her face, and while still in her long sleeve flight suit), Heather Penney asked me if I wouldn’t mind if she made me wait a moment longer??  …No problem!

She’s a talented, graceful, mother, daughter, fighter pilot, jet race pilot and in my humble opinion, Woman of the Reno Race Year.   I hope you enjoy this simple interview…

We all hope to see you make this an annual event!

Good Luck and God’s Speed Heather Penney!

Kimberley West, WarBirdBabe