All Aviation FlightLine OnLine RENO 98! -UPDATE-

Reno Air Racing Pilots Seminar

Air Racing this was not, but after arriving at Stead it soon became apparent that this was not the intent to begin with. This was a chance to see the birth of a new class of racers and all that goes along with it. No, there were not 100 Lancairs and Glasairs with a lot of pilots standing around talking of the glory days of old. It was a collection of about 30 aircraft of different kinds - unlimiteds, T-28s and the most interesting of the aircraft on the tarmac- the new Sport Class racers - but we'll get to all of that later. Reno isn't just about planes and going fast, it's about people. And in this case, the people of the hour were comprised of a group of pilots that are best described as "focused". Not focused upon having the fastest aircraft - rather focused on the task at hand. To learn what racing is all about - and to have fun while doing it.

Some of the pilots in attendance read like an old Reno program..... Dave Morss, Dennis Sanders, Bruce Lockwood, Neil Anderson, Alan Preston, Bill Rheinschild and Art Vance to name a few. To say that there was a surplus of knowledge concerning air racing is a bit of an understatement. It was apparent the first Reno Air Racing Pilots Seminar would be getting off to a great start.

Normally, I would just hit upon the high spots here, and go on to talk about what I saw that was exciting - and what a great time I had. But, I'd like to share this experience with you and I think the first place that we should start is at the beginning. For me, this was when Alan Preston took the podium.

"I wanted to chat a bit about while we're all here. It's not because we think that we're good and your not - it's because we think that we know something you may not be exposed to yet. There are simply no areas of aviation that I am familiar with where you're allowed to make this sort of a transition. Not (that this is) more difficult - just different. Without somebody building a bridge for you, showing you what is expected - this is the only arena where you can get your airplane, show up, qualify and throw yourself into the lion's den with really no way to prepare yourself. The formation that you will fly, all of you are formation pilots, you'll probably never fly eight or nine aircraft wingtip abreast - and I'm sure you've never done it with your head in the cockpit trying to set up switching to racing. I'm sure all of you are very good pilots and I'm sure that you all come from various experienced backgrounds. We expect that. But we are going to try to share with you philosophically is what we have seen that worked, and what we have seen that didn't work. There is a tremendous amount of experience here available to you and I would encourage you to avail yourselves of it. Dennis Sanders, Art Vance, myself, of course "Rhino" (Bill Rheinschild), and Bruce Lockwood are guys that have seen probably everything that has worked here and probably a lot of things that didn't work."

"What we are going to do can be deadly serious. There is no room for a cowboy, noroom for a hot dog - all that stuff is terrific in the bar, and that's where we like to leave it. When you put your feet out on that tarmac and start approaching that aircraft, that airplane is deadly serious. It doesn't give a shit who you are, it doesn't care how good you are, it doesn't care what you did yesterday. It only cares about what you do right now. There are a lot of arenas in flying that are dangerous; hell, flying can be dangerous. This one (air racing) can be made considerably more safe. There are some rules, learn them...... don't ever violate them."

"You guys in the sport class & T-28 class are going to have a lot of fun. As I said, you are going to be exposed to a lot of experience. Ask them about the rules, ask them why they are there. There are no exceptions to the rules. If you cannot "own your actions", then you do not belong here - even if you are good, even if you are the best guy here. You are not the only guy on the race-course. If we do not police ourselves, we're not effective in setting rules, if we're not effective in managing the people - Reno won't be here and (the air races) can't stay here. We're the dancing bears, and we must dance correctly.

It's also fun! That's why you came. I think that if you have talked to anybody that has raced here the word you here most often is fun. I mean it's the only place where you can basically emasculate society - you can be as big as you want to be. I just ask that you do it intelligently and safely because we'd like for you to hang around."

"I'm not going to get into specifics, your classes will do that. For the unlimited guys, Bruce has prepared a terrific curriculum. I will say that the philosophy behind this was not to teach you to be pilots. We expect you to come here being good, very good. We expect you to know your airplanes, we expect you to be able to fly them, we expect you to have come from some great backgrounds. We're just going to share with you what it is that we have seen that we think will be helpful in getting you across that bridge. That's what we're here to do. Talk to us. If one of us doesn't know it, then another one of us here will."

"So, I think we're all going to have a lot of fun. I think this is a terrific idea and really applaud RARA for making this all happen."

You know, Alan's speech pretty much summed up the sentiment by all those that were taking part in the seminar - and the things he talked about in his speech were echoed time and time again by the instructors and the pilots. Safety was paramount, and only by "owning your actions" could this be achieved. This could be done as long as everyone "danced correctly" - and everyone did have a lot of fun doing it.

With that said, there was then the introduction of race officials to the pilots and a short description of the race course that would be flown by each class. After that the individual classes were sent to their respective rooms and the meetings commenced. This presented a certain problem..... where to go! It didn't take long for me to realize that I wanted to be with the Sport Class. This would be an opportunity to see something that would be totally new to Air Racing, and I wanted to be there. After a brief intermission, the meetings began.

In the meeting of the Sport Class pilots, everyone first introduced themselves. I soon became aware of the experience level of these soon-to-be air racers. Most had military backgrounds flying aircraft like the F-16 and the entire gamut through F-84s..... some had civil backgrounds.... but by-and-large they all had one trait in common..... these were guys with loads of experience. And even *if* they didn't say it, it was just as Alan had said...... they were all good, very good. One pilot that caught my eye was the fellow who showed up in the RV4. He had flown various aircraft in airshows and had countless hours behind the stick. But was he coming here to win? Hell no - that was the slowest aircraft out there. He came to learn, to gain the experience that only this type of competition can offer and have fun while doing it. You may not be seeing this individual taking the checkered flag on Sunday, but you have to admire his ambition to better himself and the true "Spirit of Reno" that he represented.

Going into the specifics of the discussions and lectures would fill volumes of text. Rather than go into detail - suffice it to say that safety was the number one over-riding theme. The way to fly formations, flying the course, passing rules, being predictable on the race course, emergency procedures, and a litany of other issues discussed: All were embedded with the idea of safety being first! Although this is not surprising in itself, it was to the degree seen and heard. I was very impressed by the shear volume of topics discussed, much less the content and thought behind them. So when you see these guys take to the pylons in September, rest assured they are not only very good pilots - but very professional ones at that.

What was taught in the classroom was then put into action during the afternoon practice sessions. This is where the *fun* part of it started, that is as long as you didn't take into account the 100 degree plus temperatures that dominated throughout the three days. Although almost unbearable, this didn't damper the sprits of the pilots in the least. Seeing these pilots go through their daily lessons in the air was quite fascinating. Every facet of the lesson plans were adhered to, from starting engines past the "dead line", to touchdown. After which, and sometimes during the afternoon sessions, they would have a meeting to discuss issues pertinent to the operations for that day. Nothing was left to chance, everyone knew what was expected and everyone seemed to know exactly what to do. It still is hard for me to imagine that after only a few laps of the race course these pilots were flying like they were old racing veterans. Hugging the course tightly, but smoothly. At times, just keeping high enough above the pylons to be "legal". This was due to the excellent curriculum, presented by Dave Morss, as well as the insight of veteran pilots within the Sport Class like Dennis Sanders (who will be racing in this class with an SX300) and John Parker (who will be racing his Glasair II). Speaking from a spectator's perspective, I can say for sure that seeing the Sport Class in action was as much a thrill as seeing the Unlimiteds or the T-28s, probably even more so.

Speaking of the T-28s, now that was a class act! Niel Anderson had these guys really humming. It was like watching choreographed dancers in action from engine start, to flying the course, to taxi back to the pits. It was almost like they were all being controlled remotely by one person. A real treat for the eyes. You could see on the race course, however, that this will be one highly competitive class with close racing action and much passing. Knowing this, you could tell from the beginning that special emphasis was placed upon passing procedure, which was demonstrated countless times during the afternoon flying sessions. The T-28 Class performance was indeed a credit to Neil's curriculum and to the pilots themselves.

The Unlimited Class was not as well represented as the Sport Class (only three new pilots in attendance), however this gave the new pilots that did attend more personalized training. As many of you know, I have never made it a secret that the Unlimiteds are my passion and it was truly exciting to see Robert "Hoot" Gibson take "Riff Raff" up for her first time around the pylons. Crew Chief Jim Skinner said they have been trying to get "Riff Raff" to Reno for the last two years and now it seems like they will finally succeed. As you can see, this is one beautiful Sea Fury. Certainly a welcome addition to the Unlimited Class.

To sum it all up - I was extremely fortunate to get this insiders look into air racing. I was also just as fortunate to see the professionalism and experience level of those that will shortly take to the pylons. If nothing else, I have gained a new appreciation of what it takes to be among these "people who race", they have defiantly earned my respect and admiration. I am very much looking forward to seeing the lessons learned being put into practice during the up-coming Reno ‘98 event - and I think it's safe to say - the first ever Reno Air Racing Pilot Seminar was a huge success!

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(article written by Mark Kallio)
copyright 1998 Airport Fence Productions, Inc.
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