by Tim Unruh
Salina Airport Authority
Published in Midwest Flyer – June/July 2019 issue
SALINA, KAN. – 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 pilots will compete.
Salina bested a field of 44 airports in middle America.
The field was trimmed to three Kansas candidates – Salina, Great Bend and Lawrence – and those were personally visited by Bob Freeman and other members of the International Aerobatic Club (IAC), which is staging the competition.
The local aviation community is no stranger to 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 February 28 to March 2, 2005, covering 22,936 miles, Fossett became the first person to fly solo, nonstop around the world, without refueling.
The U.S. Nationals will be based in Salina Regional Airport’s historic Hangar 606 from September 21 through 27. Many of the details have yet to be determined, but competitors and their 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 competition. “It is a means to inspire youth to consider careers in aviation,” said Tim Rogers, executive director of the Salina Airport Authority.
The competition “is judged for its precision and excellence,” according to 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: 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 and will compete in the 2020 World Aerobatic Championships.