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Wed, Mar 22, 2006

Aerobatic Pilot Nick Nilmeyer, 23, Lost In Landing Accident

Had Just Practiced Routine For Upcoming Airshow Season

With heavy hearts, Aero-News has learned up-and-coming stunt pilot Nick Nilmeyer died Tuesday morning in an apparent landing mishap.

Nilmeyer, just 23 years-old and already an accomplished performer, had just wrapped up a practice routine and was on approach to land at Metz Field in Greenfield, CA when his Extra 300 crashed about 20 feet off the runway.

The small airfield is owned by veteran airshow performer Wayne Handley, whom the Monterey Herald described as Nilmeyer's mentor. Handley's wife, Karen, says her husband had watched Nilmeyer practice his routine earlier that morning, but was not watching as the 23-year-old pilot came in to land at around 10:35 am Tuesday.

"He's such an up-and-comer," family friend Karl Koeppen, who had known Nilmeyer for 10 years, said. "It's just a damn shame to lose someone this young and talented... Nick performed on a canvas in the sky."

Koeppen told the Herald that Nilmeyer soloed when he was 16, had his ticket at 17 and performed in his first airshow just two years later. He had also earned a surface waiver from the FAA, meaning Nilmeyer could fly as near to the ground as he felt comfortable with during his routine -- testimony to Nilmeyer's skills at the controls.

From an early age, Nilmeyer had dreamed of being a professional pilot, Koeppen said. "While most kids had Pam Anderson posters on their walls, Nick had Pam Anderson and airplanes. It was a split loyalty."

Nilmeyer was booked for eight to 10 shows this year, Koeppen said. That schedule included performances for the International Council of Air Shows, or ICAS, as one of its "Stars of Tomorrow," as well as for the inaugural season of the Association of Competition Airshow Pilots (ACAP) "eXtreme Airshow Challenge."

At just 81 days into 2006, already this year has hit the air show community particularly hard.

On January 6, "Russian Thunder" pilot Eric Beard was lost in an accident in Washington state. Beard, who was also scheduled to perform with ACAP, was not at the controls of his heavily modified Yak 54 when he lost his life... but instead was flying Piper Seneca twin, hauling freight for his day job with Airpac Airlines. Authorities say Beard's airplane crashed at night, in low visibility, while on approach to land at Skagit Regional Airport.

While performing aerobatics can certainly be a dangerous game -- requiring the utmost levels of skill and concentration at all times -- Beard's accident, and now Nilmeyer's loss, reminds pilots of all stripes that the worse can happen at any time... even during what could be termed comparatively "routine" maneuvers.

Nilmeyer, while certainly aware of the risks, also felt the rewards of flying were worth the risk -- and he felt the compulsion to share this joy and talent with others... especially children, some not much younger than himself.

With that in mind, Koeppen provides as fitting a eulogy for the young pilot as any.

"Young kids were like 'Dude, how can I do that?' [Nick] would say 'Go to the airport and wash and wax and pay your dues. Then if you're lucky, someone will offer to teach you.'"

ANN extends our condolences to Nick Nilmeyer's friends and family during this traumatic time.

FMI: www.airshow.org, www.evqshows.com

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