Friday, March 13, 2015

Aerobatic pilots land in Dunnellon, Florida

John Nafziger of Maryland, puts on his parachute as he prepares to fly his Yak 55M through a series of patterns, rolls and turns in the Intermediate class during the International Aerobatic Club Snowbird Acro Classic flying meet that was held Friday at the Dunnellon-Marion County Airport.

DUNNELLON — Aerobatic pilots from around the country, including a three-time world aerobatic champion, converged at the airport here Friday for the two-day Snowbird Classic International Aerobatic Club aerobatic regional competition.

Pilot Nick Cain, 17, of Lakeland, participating in his first aerobatic competition, said he flew solo before he could legally drive a car.

On Friday he took off in a bright green Bellanca Decathlon, a fabric-covered “tail dragger,” or rear-wheel, single-engine sport plane.

After his aerial performance, which included a required series of loops, 180s and 270s, he said he “felt good.”

Faith Drewry, who operates a flight school in Tallahassee, sat in the blue and yellow Super Decathlon, similar to Nick Cain’s plane but with more horsepower.

Drewry watched starter Bud Griffin, one of several volunteers from Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 812 of Ocala, for instructions on when to taxi toward the flight line.

“Flying is my passion,” said Drewry, who competed in the primary class.

At least 13 pilots competed in primary, sportsman, intermediate and advanced aerobatic classes. The field was cut nearly in half due to bad weather at the home airfields of many of the competitors, according to Mark Stewart, one of the event organizers.

The competition was also delayed by low clouds. But they began to lift after lunch, allowing the pilots to take turns performing their routines.

Competitors gain points in each category and will move on to later competitions, including one in May in Sebring and then the nationals in Sherman, Texas, in September.

The competition was the first sponsored and sanctioned by local IAC Chapter 89, according to Ralph Sebexen, who spearheaded opening the chapter in 1989.

Sebexen, a former aerobatic pilot, explained that fliers must perform their routines at prescribed levels in an airspace “box.”

In Friday’s competition the “box” was about 4,000 feet high and about 3,300 feet square, Sebexen said.

John Helms, manager of the airport for Marion County, said this was the first IAC competition at Dunnellon.

Helms said he understood that the airfield had served as a transport and glider training center during World War II, and also was used for the development of a WWII night fighter-bomber.

Charlie Sikes, 44, of Auburn, Alabama, came to compete in his $80,000 classic 1971 Pitts S2A biplane.

Sikes said his favorite maneuver is a loop that tops out at about 3,500 feet and reaches down to around 2,000 feet.

Ron Hill, who works with FedEx’s dangerous goods shipping department, which handles commercial items like paints and batteries, piloted a black and white Pitts biplane in the sportsman class.

Taylor Walters, a resident of Leeward Air Ranch and former U.S. Air Force flight surgeon, participated with his Russian-built SP-9.

Walters, 72, has been competing in aerobatics for about 15 years.

Foster Bachschmidt, 25, of Ocala, current National IAC Champion in the advanced class, attended the event to observe but did not compete in his Extra 330 SC airplane. He said he plans to compete in events that may lead to the advanced world championships in Radom, Poland, later this year.

Nikoly Timofeev, 59, a three-time world unlimited aerobatic champion, sanctioned by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI), came to the event with his MXS plane.

According to Liza Weaver with IAC Chapter 89, without other entries in the unlimited class, Timofeev competed in the advanced class Friday and was leading that class late in the afternoon.

Timofeev will complete in events later this year as a member of the USA Unlimited Aerobatics Team.

According to, the eight-man, one-woman “best of the best” team will represent the U.S. at the FAI World Championship finals in August in France.

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