Local promoters are doing loop de loops over news that Salina Regional Airport will play host to the 2019 U.S. Aerobatic Championships in late September.
The seven-day event is expected to bring nearly 100 pilots to Salina, injecting the city with nearly $250,000 in direct economic impact.
“We are ecstatic,” said Sylvia Rice, director of Visit Salina, a division of the Salina Area Chamber of Commerce. Some of the nation’s top aerobatic aircraft pilots will compete.
Salina bested a field of 44 airports in middle America. Tim Rogers, executive director of the Salina Airport Authority, his staff and the board of directors, were informed roughly a week ago. When Visit Salina staff learned the news last week “it was really, really exciting,” Rice said. “There was a lot of competition and it feels good when you get a win like that. It’ll be a great event.”
The field was trimmed to three Kansas candidates – Salina, Great Bend and Lawrence – and those were personally visited by Bob Freeman, of Lyons, Colo., and other members of the International Aerobatic Club, which is staging the national competition. “We are all excited and looking forward to the event in Salina,” said Freeman a member of the IAC board of directors, in an email informing Salina. An aerobatic pilot and a three-time team competitor, Freeman said he sensed a “good vibe” from Rogers when they met. “He was very enthusiastic, and excited to get more information about the event,” Freeman said. “The (Salina) facilities are just head and shoulders above the other options we had, both from an airport standpoint and a community standpoint.”
Salina impressed Lorrie Penner, executive director of the IAC, a “community” in the Experimental Aircraft Association, with headquarters in Oshkosh, Wisc. “We are really excited by the enthusiasm we were met with in Salina,” she said. “The Airport Authority and Visit Salina staff were marvelous.”
Rogers said he is proud and honored to be part of hosting another national aviation event. “It’s a competition that will draw people to Salina from across the nation,” Rogers said.
The local aviation community is no stranger such events. Freeman and the IAC working group cited a number of reasons why Salina “came out on top,” among them the historic nature of the former Schilling Air Force Base, and serving as host of many aviation events. Those include the National Intercollegiate Flying Association’s SAFFRON national championships, and multiple U.S. Military Jaded Thunder exercises.
Perhaps best known is the 2005 world record flight by aviation adventurer Steve Fossett. In a 67-hour flight, from Feb. 28, to March 2, 2005, covering 22,936 miles, he became the first to fly solo, nonstop around the world, without stopping or refueling.
The U.S. Nationals will be based in Salina Regional Airport’s historic Hangar 606 from Sept. 21 through 27. Many of the details have yet to be determined, but competitors and their sports aircraft will be in Salina to demonstrate precision flying skills in both compulsory and freestyle performances. Local and area elementary and high school students will be invited to witness the thrills of aerobatic aviation. “It is a means to inspire youth to consider careers in aviation,” Rogers said.
The flying contest “is judged for its precision and excellence,” according to the IAC. “The judging is very similar to that seen in figure skating, as the competitors must execute prescribed maneuvers as part of an overall performance. It places high demands on both the pilot and aircraft to be at their best.”
Pilots compete in five categories, according to IAC materials – Primary, Sportsman, Intermediate, Advanced, and Unlimited in both power and glider aerobatics.
Pilots in each category fly at least three routines:
- Known: where all competitors fly a pre-published set of maneuvers.
- Unknown: maneuvers are presented to the pilot 12 hours before.
- Freestyle: pilots create their own routine based on maneuvers allowed in their category.
All routines are scored by judges, and those posting the highest scores in each category are named national champions. Top finishers in the advanced category will earn berths on the U.S. Unlimited Aerobatic Team that will compete in the 2020 World Aerobatic Championships.