By Marilyn Dash
In 1997, it was decided there should be a better way to help prepare pilots for the National Championship Air Races held each year in September, in Reno, Nev. Previously, hopeful race pilots may arrive a few days early in September and be taken through a series of air maneuvers the weekend before the races. As the races started to attract more classes and more racers, a better, more structured training became necessary.
This June marked the 19th Pylon Racing Seminar AKA Rookie School. And—for the fourth year in a row—a record number of participants were in attendance. Between the six race classes, 79 airplanes and 130 participants from all over the world made their way to Stead to practice, qualify, and have fun.
“We are beyond excited to have hosted a record number of planes and participants at this year’s Pylon Racing Seminar, Mike Crowell, President and CEO of the Reno Air Racing Association said. “Not only is PRS an opportunity for new pilots to get a feel for the course and understand safety guidelines, it is also a chance for returning pilots to train for September. It was a great few days for the Reno Air Racing Association, and we are looking forward to this year’s National Championship Air Races.”
There are only two periods per year when racers are able to fly on the course–during PRS and during Race Week. So, PRS doesn’t just attract new racers but also returning pilots and veterans who want to have a little fun or knock the rust off their skills.
Each Class spends part of the time in a general session learning about NCAR and the Reno Air Races. Then they split up into their specific classes and learn the specific operations for their group—basically ground school. The final two segments of the training include specific Air Work based on their class’s requirements. Then, they can finally get on the race course.
Specific skills are required for each different class. For example, if they have a ground start like the Biplanes and Formula Classes, they will practice take-offs with a maximum 10-foot deviation in either direction. And to ensure racers know how to get out of bad air on the pylons, they might be asked to do aileron rolls—right and left. If they have an air start, they are required to fly formation and simulate a typical join-up and chute approach. And most classes will have the attendees perform a simulated Mayday to show their understanding of their aircraft and the flight characteristics during an emergency.
Something else that is relatively new is the ability for a racer to come to PRS and go through the general sessions and the ground school and to be able to hold the Air Work for September. This works great for people coming from further away, where flying across the country twice would be quite difficult. It opens up the field to pilots who have always wanted to race but couldn’t make both PRS and Race Week.
As expected, the Sport Class was the big winner with more than 50 attendees, including rookies, returning racers who have not raced in the last three years—to recertify, veterans interested in practice or testing, and instructors. Even with all of the attendees, in disparate aircraft and skill level—the Sport Class worked like a well-oiled machine. Each session was planned out in advance with the instructors, flight leaders, and rookies mixing it up and getting it done.
More than 20 participants in Formula 1 mark their best year ever. This seems to be another class getting renewed interest from the sport pilot community. Philip Goforth and Jay Jones have been instrumental in locating pilots around the country who own Formula 1 racing planes and talking them into joining the movement. More on this class in next month’s column—but for now—know that they are on the move!
The T-6 Clubhouse was buzzing with happy pilots. Jerry Thurman’s hangar has become the “Happy Place for the T-6 Class.” They do their pre-flight and post-flight briefs in this facility and rarely venture too far away. Some great new pilots have joined their numbers, including Chris LeFave and active duty USN Aviator, Peter Stavrides. Congrats, gentlemen!
Also, Eric Woelbing was there in preparation for his sophomore year. If his name sounds familiar, he is the proud owner of famous racing Sea Furys, Miss Merced, and Furias. But, he will be racing his T-6— Eddie Van Fossen’s old Miss TNT. I expect we will hear much more from him and his racing team in the future.
Yes, you Unlimited Fans—there were Unlimiteds at PRS. In fact, two new pilots were certified, Joel Swager and Bernie Vasquez. Joel flew Argonaut while Stevo Hinton and Bernie shared Voodoo during the week, with Bernie going for his certification and Stevo looking to get some telemetry on the aerodynamic modifications they made prior to the 2015 season—but with their engine not making the power they expected—they felt they never were able to get clear numbers to justify the modifications. PRS is a perfect time to do things like this.
Two other returning racers came back to take Ground School and will finish up their recertification in September. John Maloney and Jim Thomas will likely be flying John and Sue Paul’s P-51B, Boise Bee, and one of their P-40s (likely Sneak Attack) in September. A Big THANK YOU to John, Jim, and the Pauls for coming back!
Three Rookies were also in attendance for ground school only. Ira Saligman and Olivier Langeard will be flying Yaks in September, and Trevor Merton returned—but not sure what he will be flying yet.
Jay Consalvi attended PRS in 2010 in a Corsair. Since then, he hasn’t raced but has always been around Warbirds. He is a retired Naval Aviator with time in both the F-14 and F-18. He is also the male lead in the movie Speed and Angels, which was touted as the “Real Life Top Gun.”
Originally, Jay was looking to race Strega, but it looks like Czech Mate may be his ride this year instead. Either way, he is a welcome addition to the roster. With his name on the list, it looks like we will have approximately 18 Unlimiteds in September. Great news for you Warbird Fans!
Special thanks to all the volunteers who helped out at PRS, especially the photographers, race control, and the TUG GUYS! The unsung heroes of keeping us on schedule! And of course, Anthony Taylor and Warbird Fotos for providing the amazing shots for this month.
There is more to come in the next few months. We will be focusing on a few racers who have a great story to tell and will keep the fans up to date with the exciting happenings in preparation for September.
Until then – Fly Low, Fly Fast, and Turn Left!