Air Race

A pair of racing aircraft zip along the course at Richard B. Russell Regional Airport during a test run. Air races will be a part of the 2020 Wings Over North Georgia air show.

It’s official — air racing will become a part of the Wings Over North Georgia air show in 2020.

The event received its sanctioning from the Federal Aviation Administration and will be a part of the AirShow Racing Series next year on Oct. 24-25.

John Cowman, president of JLC Air Show Management, said this is a project that he has been working on for more than two years.

“I felt like, from an excitement standpoint, we have no winners and losers at air shows, so I was looking for what we could develop and bring to the table,” Cowman said. “Air racing is something that I’ve always had a desire for but there was no way of doing that at an air show.”

He looked at the National Hot Rod Racing Association model and was able to develop a course that involves navigating pylons within the standard aerobatic box, he said.

Once the course was developed, Cowman had to win approval from the FAA which changed a lot of rules and regulations for the industry following a crash at a show in Reno, Nevada, in September of 2011.

During that incident, a highly modified North American P-51D Mustang racer crashed into spectators, killing the pilot, Jimmy Leeward, and a number of people on the ground.

New safety checks for custom modified aircraft and rules about the safe distance from race spectators are among the changes that have been made. Cowman said the safety of everyone concerned, from the pilots to the spectators, has always been his top priority.

The course features inflatable pylons that are spaced apart down a straight line course. The racers drop to below 75 feet in the air and maneuver through the pylon course two and half times with a sprint to the finish.

Races will be held in two divisions with eight racers in each division.

Organizers of other air shows will be in Rome to witness the event and determine whether or not it is feasible to incorporate the racing in their shows, he said.

The air show will pay the pilots to come to Rome to participate and earn points as part of the AirShow Racing national series, Cowman said. At the end of the series, the top pilots will have a pool of funds donated to the charity of their choice.

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds will also be a part of the 2020 air show in Rome. The 2019 show was canceled this year after efforts to attract a major international headline act fell through.

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