Despite the recent air show tragedies in Reno, Nev., and West Virginia, the Archuleta County Airport Advisory Commission (AAC) has decided to move forward with this weekend’s third annual Pagosa Springs Air Race, on Saturday.
An AAC statement notes the decision was made after careful consideration and polling members of the general public, and added that the event will stand as a memorial to those who lost their lives at the Reno event.
AAC Chairman Ralph Goulds attended the Reno air race and indicated the Pagosa Springs race would be safe, partially due to the difference in format of the Reno and Pagosa air races.
He also noted that it was the first time in 47 years that a member of the public had been hurt at the Reno event.
As explained by Goulds and Mike Arbuthnot, also an AAC member, the Reno air race featured heats of eight to 10 planes flying on a course (different courses catering to different classes of planes) all at the same time — meaning the planes may fly close together at speeds that can reach about 500 mph.
Next weekend’s Pagosa Springs Air Race, however, features an entirely different structure in accordance with the Sport Air Racing League’s safety-oriented goals that govern hundreds of races around the country annually.
The primary goal of the event is the safety of the pilots and spectators, Arbuthnot said.
Goulds and Arbuthnot explained that, while all the planes will be in the air at the same time during the 137-mile race, they will be spaced out and racing against a clock, instead of against each other.
The approximately 30 aircraft expected to participate in the race will be organized from the fastest to the slowest, with the fastest taking off first. After a 20-second delay, the second-fastest craft will take off, and so on down the line, allowing distance between the planes in the air.
“The air race tends to be like an accordion,” Arbuthnot said, explaining how the distance between the planes will grow.
There will also be a time gap between when the last plane takes off and the first reaches the finish line, Arbuthnot said.
“This race is really no riskier than me getting in my airplane and flying around the countryside,” Arbuthnot said.
Goulds said the race was probably even safer than were the same amount of planes taking to off in a normal fashion, because the course of every plane is known.
The race will begin at Stevens Field in Pagosa Springs, then the course will take the pilots on a 137-mile journey over southwest Navajo Lake, Gorbenador, Dulce, the Jicarilla Apache Indian Reservation and Chama, before concluding at Stevens Field.
Spectators wishing to meet the pilots and see the planes will be able to do so prior to the race’s start, but will then be cordoned off into an area near the airport’s AvJet building during the race for safety.
Traditionally, the Sport Air League Racing League events are private races, closed to the public, and Pagosa Springs is one of the few locations that opens the event to spectators.
Admission to the event is free. The event gates open at 8 a.m. Saturday, at Stevens Field, located on Cloman Boulevard, off of Piedra Road. The pilots will be available for conversations and planes can be viewed prior to the race.
The pilots will start their engines at 9:40 a.m. and the race will begin at 10, with the race expected to take about two hours.
In accordance with the national rules of the event, the race will be cancelled in the case of inclement weather, Goulds said.