Many Legends, History Makers, Thrill Masters, Record Setters, and Aviation Preservationists in Attendance to Present the NAHI 2012 Awards at the Reno Races!

The Aviation Heritage awards were lively, fun and I’m sure exciting for the recipients of the prestigious awards, especially the inaugural recipient of the newly named Neil A. Armstrong National Aviation Heritage Invitational Trophy which was presented to Duncan Cameron of Lebanon TN for his, and Tom Westfall’s wonderful restoration of a 1944 OY-1 Consolidated Vultee Stinson.

It was a privilege and honor to speak with the many Aviation Legends and Enshrinees whose individual passion for aviation has changed history and created many wonderful things and events we enjoy. Such as the preservation of Vintage Aircraft; the Reno Races; the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and Smithsonian Air & Space Magazine; the never-before-flown aircraft tested for design performance which ensured they could be flown safely by thousands of service men and women; the easy means by which we choose a flight, board and land at our destination in comfort; the airmen who flew dangerous missions to safeguard the lives our bombers, troops on the front lines, our country and engaged in air to air dog fights; those who have flown around the world without stopping, or refueling; those who make airplanes float in air, perform unimaginable maneuvers with grace, and thrill a crowd…

Here are just a few of the VIP’s in attendance who have changed the course of our aviation history and are, well, important, inspirational and legends – all of whom honored the man who first walked on the moon.

Kimberley West, WarBirdBabe

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

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

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