Aviator Lost During Qualifying At Reno Air Race

Qualifying crash claims the life of Sport Class President Lee Behel in his one-of-kind GP-5 , "Sweet Dreams." This was single-plane incident and no other pilots or spectators were injured. The Reno Fire Chief has told the local CBS affiliate that the plane fell apart in the air, as it was flying low through an obstacle course.

Statement From The National Championship Air Races:

Reno, Nev. – At approximately 3:30 p.m. today, Sport Class pilot Lee Behel, 64, from San Jose, Calif. was involved in a fatal accident during a qualifying heat of the National Championship Air Races at the Reno-Stead Airport. Behel was flying a GP-5, "Sweet Dreams." This was single-plane incident and no other pilots or spectators were injured.

In addition to being one of the founders of the Sport Class and its current president, Behel was a retired Air Force fighter pilot and a loving father. Behel was a former Sport Class champion and longtime Air Race pilot.

"Lee was a very talented pilot but, more importantly, an enthusiastic and compassionate friend and the entire Air Race family will miss him deeply," said Mike Major, chairman of the Reno Air Racing Association. "This is a difficult day for all of us and our thoughts and prayers are with Lee's family and friends."

At this time, the Reno Air Racing Association will not speculate on the cause of the accident, which is currently under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). As is standard procedure, we will evaluate all race planes prior to returning to the race course.

Qualifying for the 51st annual National Championship Air Races will resume, as scheduled, at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 9 and the event officially opens to the public on Wednesday, Sept. 10. A tribute for Behel is currently being planned and will take place later this week. More details will be provided as they become available. Please visit www.airrace.org for more information.

Lee recently set three new records in Class C-1b today with the GP-5. The first was the 3000 meter time-to-climb with a time of 2:00, breaking the previous record of 2:20 set by Bruce Bohannon in 1999. The second was the speed over a 3 kilometer course at 377.6 MPH, preaking the previous record of 356.1 set by Jon Sharp in 1998 in the Nemesis-NXT. The third was the speed over a 15 kilometer course at 378.7 MPH, breaking the previous record of 358.8 MPH set by MayCay Beeler in 1989.

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Read a complete write up of the fascinating GP-5 project here. And see below as Lee performs an emergency landing after a severe engine failure spews oils over the canopy.

Lost a Friend at the Reno Air Races

Opponauts, I'm very saddened by the death of a good friend who was qualifying today for the Reno Air Races. Lee was a genuinely talented pilot and nice guy, and will be deeply missed.

Additional Oppo details: this plane was one of a kind. It was constructed of wood, and powered by a small-block Chevy engine. It was quite a project.