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Flying Expert: Reno Races Are ‘Dangerous’ But Unique

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(credit: CBS) Reg Chapman
Reg Chapman joined WCCO-TV in May of 2009. He came to WCCO fr...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Jerry Fleischhacker is the president of the Benson-White Bear Lake Chapter of the Experimental Aviation Association, and he knows all too well the dangers of flying – dangers that became evident in two fatal accidents this weekend.

Fleischhacker planned to attend the air race in Reno, Nev., this weekend, until word of the crash that killed 9 people and injured 70 kept him home.

“It’s sad a day in aviation,” he said.

Fleischhacker has flown planes for 18 years, and he knows how to fly the WWII-era P-51 plane that crashed in Reno. He said those planes take special knowledge and training to fly, especially when racing.

“They go around these pylons at high rates [of speed] … it’s like a race track in the air,” he said.

Fleischhacker said the planes are modified to maneuver better at high velocities. They have bigger engines and the plane that crashed, according to Fleischhacker, had three feet cut off each wing to make it shorter and faster.

Fleischhacker described flying those planes as “dangerous, really dangerous.”

“You’re flying low and at very, very high speeds,” he said.

The race in Reno is the only one of its kind in the United States, and Friday marked the first time a spectator has been killed since the Reno Air Race Association began 47 years ago.

Calls for officials to consider ending the event has Fleischhacker concerned; he said he hopes the races continue, despite being dangerous.

“It’s like auto racing,” he said. “You see car crashes in auto racing. You’re going to have them in aviation as well. It’s dangerous: You’re going fast and you are at low altitude.”

Fleischhacker said he will think of the pilot and the people on the tarmac who lost their lives in Reno every time he preps his plane for flight.

So far, 20 pilots have died during the 47 year history of the races in Reno.

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