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The Pilots of Denali sticky icon

Veteran glacier pilot David Lee does not like what he sees out the windshield of his Cessna 185. He and his passengers—a team of German climbers anxious to start their attempt on Mount McKinley’s summit—are headed toward the base camp at 7,200 feet on the Kahiltna Glacier, a two-mile-wide river of snow-covered ice on the southern slope of the Alaska Range. In the single-engine, six-seat, dull red Cessna, Lee is watching clouds build and threaten to obscure the route through the mountains into the camp. He is tantalizingly close to his objective. Five minutes from now, if the weather were even slightly better, he’d be flying an approach he has flown thousands of times to a familiar patch of relatively level snow.

Bomberville (On the Road) sticky icon

Hunched at the command console of the AIR&SPACE web site, I detect a vague grumbling drone that is probably airborne. It's been longer than I can stand to admit since I was an active pilot, but the senses still spring to life at the suggestion of an airplane in flight.

Suddenly, a pair of slab-sided vertical fins rise above the rooftops, followed by the singularly awkward profile of a B-24. A Liberator. That can mean only one thing: The Collings Foundation!

Twenty Seconds over the Crazy Woman VOR sticky icon

'Spirit of Steamboat' by Craig Johnson.

The novella Spirit of Steamboat is a thank-you note to the Greatest Generation from a Wyoming rancher. It's also a hair-raising aerial adventure story wrapped within a charming mystery. Enclosed within are yarns of Wyoming history and a medical procedural. It's also A Christmas Carol for our times.

I can tell you a story about that, as author Craig Johnson would say.

Heart Strings sticky icon

I'm not the one to tell you what it is about the Irish, or the Irish fiddle. There's no hope to do that without a pedigree and aside from a great-great-great someone or another somewhere up the Anglo-Saxon family tree, I haven't got one. I'm an American mutt from the lower 48 with as much elan as a Walmart throw rug.

The Other Lance

As I write this, an epic sports drama of unprecidented historical proportion — and I use those words judiciously — is playing out in a tiny village in the far northwest corner of Alaska.

In a community hall at the White Mountain checkpoint, Lance Mackey is within striking distance of winning the 2007 Iditarod.

That is the One Thousand Mile sled dog race everyone has heard about. Mackey is the musher no one in the lower 48 who doesn't pay attention to the sport of marathon sled dog racing has ever heard about.

Threes

It's an old, vague pilot superstition that fatal accidents tend to happen in groups of three.  I hate it when that seems to be true...

Air Racing 101

When the Reno Air Races started in 1964, they were based on the premise that out in Nevada’s high desert, where there was no one around to suffer collateral damage, all bets were off. If you came to race, you knew the risk and accepted the consequences. The traditional way to learn how to race was to simply strap into a race plane and go take a good look at the pylons. The bravado of self-education added to the ethos of the sport, but it took a toll on pilots and airplanes. In the first four decades Reno lost 15 pilots. After a particularly preventable fatality in 1994, racer Alan Preston went to operations director Bill Eck and revitalized a concept that had been discussed over the years. In 1998, when the Sport class debuted at the Reno Air Races, a school to learn to race airplanes debuted with it.

X-Racers

THIS IS WHAT THE FANS IN THE BLEACHERS WILL SEE.

At one end of the track, two racing aircraft are poised less than 50 feet apart at a starting line. They silently exhale mist from vents in the fuselage liquid-oxygen tanks. When the gun sounds, their 1,500-pound-thrust rocket engines ignite, hurling the racers down the runway past the fans and throwing back brilliant 10-foot kerosene flames: 0 to 200 in 15 seconds. At the end of the straightaway, the rocketplanes pull vertical and shoot straight up on pillars of fire. At about 3,000 feet, they pitch over inverted, roll, and, engines now off, dive through an invisible gate to follow a course that twists and turns like a roller-coaster track.

Red Bull's Rodeo

One by one the racers charge the course. They dash and dance through a prescribed sequence-climbing corkscrews, knife-edge passes, precise rolls-all racing the clock through an obstacle course of 50-foot-high inflatable gates. The performance is mesmerizing and utterly alien to the hundreds of fans drawn year after year to the National Championship Air Races in Reno, Nevada.

Fans have come to Reno since 1964 for the World War II charisma of piston-powered racers that roar, six to a heat, around fixed, lethal-if-struck pylons at 500 mph. Last September, the fans got that hit of adrenaline-and they were introduced to the other race. One has guts and thunder; the other, grace and cunning. One is homegrown and flown in a pack; the other is a European import and solitary. The question before the Reno Air Racing Association last year was: Is there room in this town for both?

CorsairFest

Walk out on the ramp, past the static displays, the remote-controlled-model tent, the Marine recruiting stand, and the car show, on across the drying grass to where the flying exhibits were parked, then around the corner at the tail of a B-25. There they are, all gleaming deep blue and jutting propeller blades. It's the Corsairs.