TULSA, OK– Thousands of aviation buffs braved near gridlock on the approaching roads and turned out to witness the QuikTrip Air and Rocket Racing Show at Tulsa International Airport Saturday afternoon. Billed as the debut of the Rocket Racing League, the show also featured traditional aerobatic stunt pilots, wing walkers, and glider demonstrations along with static displays of civilian and military aircraft.
The Rocket Racing League (RRL) put on a thrilling display of their experimental aircraft, which use ethanol-and-liquid oxygen rocket engines to power the lightweight airplanes and produce 2500 pounds of thrust and top speeds of up to 300 miles an hour.. Many in the crowd didn’t know what to expect as the emcees of the show notified them that the RRL was in the air and ready to go, then the pilots lit the engines and the planes that were barely visible shot out of nowhere trailing red and yellow tongues of flame.
Huge jumbotron screens allowed fans to follow the RRL pilots as the flew through an imaginary course generated by a computer and transmitted to the pilots helmets via a virtual reality display on their visors. Many fans compared the images displayed to a video game as the planes were seen flying through the imaginary gates. The event in Tulsa was the debut of what the league’s founder want to develop as a legitimate sport, and one that will be truly interactive as the RRL plans to introduce technology that will allow fans at home to fly their own aircraft in simulated races against pilots who are really racing through their computers and the internet, an innovation that will be fully online by 2012.
Despite the overdose of 21st Century aviation that was brought by the Rocket Racing League, at it’s heart it was a traditional air show and for old school fans the program did not disappoint. For instance, members of two noted families in the aorld of aerobatic stunt flying were represented as Matt Younkin and Kyle Franklin put on acrobatic displays of loops, stalls and rolls as well as thrilling wing walking displays, one of which featured a pirate theme as Franklin’s wife Amanda performed a wing walk on her husband’s bi-plane.
Franklin also provided a lighthearted moment as he disguised himself as a drunk fan who stole an airshow plane and performed some dangerous stunts. The Tulsa Warbirds provided fans with a simulation of WWII strafing runs as they flew trainer aircraft and fighter planes overhead simulating war conditions with low passes and formation flying.
Fans also had the opportunity to meet some heroes of the space program as the second man to walk on the moon, Buzz Aldrin was on hand for the event as well as Oklahoma native Commander John Herrington, Space Shuttle Astronaut and chairman of the Land The Shuttle campaign, designed to give one of the retiring Space Shuttles a permanent home at the Tulsa Air and Space Museum.
Two flybys by two military aircraft provided a thrilling capstone to the event, as a B-52 Stratofortress from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana made a high-speed, low pass over the crowd that was followed by a B-2 Spirit "Stealth" Bomber from Wightman Air Force base in Missouri.
Photos by: Kevin Pyle
All proceeds for the event were tasked to help bring one of the retiring Space Shuttle Orbiters to Tulsa as a permanent display at the Tulsa Air and Space Museum once the Orbiter program ends later this year. Air show patrons were encouraged to sign petitons to help in the effort as well and TASM officials were on hand to answer questions about the campaign and encourage people to visit landtheshuttle.com, the campaign’s official website.
Organizers hope to make the Air and Rocket Racing Show an annual event.