Friday, April 20, 2018

Jon and Patricia Sharp: Work and marriage in the fast lane

Champion air racers Jon and Patricia Sharp designed and built the most successful plane in air racing history.

They are the Sharps and they are the “King and Queen of Speed,” but why does it matter to be the fastest?

Champion air racers Jon and Patricia Sharp designed and built the most successful plane in air racing history, Nemesis: “Nemesis set 16 world speed records and won 45 of the 48 contests it entered before its retirement in 1999,”according to the National Air and Space Museum’s website.

They are coming to the National Air and Space Museum on Thursday April 26 to talk about their work and their marriage in the fast lane.

When asked what kind of couple they are, Patricia answered with one word: happy. Do they have children? “When we got married, we talked about whether we wanted kids or airplanes, and there was a unanimous decision to do airplanes,” answered Jon.

They first met on an airplane and two years later they were married, said Patricia. “I’ve been in aviation since I was 2 weeks old; I used to fly with my dad all the time. I love airplanes; I always wanted to be at the airport; I just like to fly, and it’s my thing. So, I met Jon, and it just worked. It was meant to be.”

Jon, I know that you are a composite engineer, so how did you become interested in designing your own aircraft?

JON: Well, it actually started way, way back when I used to race anything and everything I could find: tricycles, pedal cars, cars, you name it.

So you were into racing…even as a child?

JON: Yes, I built model airplanes when I was younger, and when I was older too, and I even used to race those. So that was what sparked my interest in aviation. And a friend of mine showed up at a place where I work, and I looked outside and saw his car and he had a license plate which said “I’d rather be flying” on it. And I asked him, “You fly?” and he said, “Yeah, I just got my instructor’s rating.” And I said, “I’ve always thought about flying.” And he said, “Well, if you want to be my student, I won’t charge you for my time, you would just pay for the plane.” So that’s how I got started on flying, and it naturally transitioned from just flying to racing flying.

You were able to afford to design your own aircraft?

JON: The afford part really falls into my wife; she’s the fundraiser, so to speak.

PATRICIA: So, what I wanted to do with the first plane and also the second plane is bring in sponsors, and the sponsors were the ones that helped us be able to afford to not only build our planes, but also to race them. We gave them a lot of exposure throughout the years. And we’ve been on everything. When Discovery Channel first started, we were on Discovery quite a bit; we were on the front page of LA Times and we were on CNN. We gave them a lot of exposure because we were just something unique that people wanted to talk about.

Jon, you learned to fly later in life …

JON: I just learned to fly general aviation aircraft, because I was a member of the military, so I just learned to fly small planes: Sepnas, Mooneys, you name it. What connected me with the racing program, Racing Thoughts, was that I was getting tired of renting an airplane when I was in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I was going to build a plane, a kid plane, and a friend of mine that I worked with, she said, “Well, there’s this neat little race plane in my hanger that’s for sale.” And so I looked at that, and I bought that plane for $5,000 way back in 1975, 1976, something like that. I was just having fun with it, flying it around, and then I took it to my very first race in 1978 in Mexicali, Mexico. And that plane eventually evolved into winning two championships at Reno; that plane, when I got it was called “Bilbo” from the book “The Hobbit,” and it eventually became named “Aeromagic” and we won two championships with it in 1982 and 1986. So we reached the evolutionary peak of that airplane, and that’s when we decided to build the first little Formula 1 Nemesis.

Patricia, can you tell me more about your role?

PATRICIA: My role with both planes was taking care of the team, making sure they had breakfast, lunch, and dinner, all the water, all the sodas, whatever they needed; credentials to get in the races, making reservations for them, picking them up from the airport and getting car passes for them. I basically took care of them, because they were what made us successful. For the second plane, I did all that, plus I became composite fabricator, so I built the parts to make the plane a full plane.

Jeremy Kinney, one of the aviation curators at the National Air and Space Museum explained to Fairfax Times why this upcoming lecture is important, “Jon and Patricia Sharp and their remarkable air racing team are the epitome of engineering creativity, innovation, and competition at the highest levels of motorsports. Their high performance championship-winning aircraft, Nemesis and Nemesis NXT, have set the standard for what air racers can and should be.”

In 2000, the Sharps began creating Nemesis NXT, or “the pink beast.” With a top speed of 415.75 mph, Nemesis NXT dominated the competition at the 2009 National Championship Air Races with a “record a day, and two on Sunday”—and it set four world speed records in 2015. Nemesis is currently on display at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center and will be joined by Nemesis NXT this spring, according to the National Air and Space Museum’s website.

“Meet the King and Queen of Speed”

National Air and Space Museum

Independence Ave. 6th St., S.W., Washington, D.C.

Thursday, April 26, 8 p.m.

Free, tickets required.

For more information, visit

Original article can be found here ➤

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