Controversial Racing Program Continues to Demonstrate Inability
To Certify Safety Of Program
The Ultimate Air Racing Championships that ANN profiled several
weeks ago, featuring some pilots with troubled backgrounds and
histories, appears to be stuck in 'idle.' FAA Spokesperson, Ian
Gregor, has confirmed that the UARC request for approval of an
aggressive multi-plane, multi-obstacle, air racing platform could
not be proven to be safe enough to meet the FAA's required
standards. "First and foremost, we need to insure a safe event...
we put eight inspectors on this, very experienced people, and we
have been unable to approve their plan for a scheduled race
in Camarillo, California. We have worked hard on this program and
given it our best effort... but safety has to come first."
From the start, the UARC program presented a number of
self-imposed obstacles that created instant suspicion and concern.
An early press release claimed that the event already had FAA
approval and that the races would be conducted by seven of the best
pilots in the world...
None of that was found to be true... and that is but a few of
the issues that arose, week after week, as UARC attempted to
convince the FAA to approve an exceedingly aggressive air race
program that would have as many as 7 aircraft, not all of them with
the same capabilities, on a Red Bull style course, with a number of
those aircraft expected to attempt to pass each other to get
through a number of 'gates' in close proximity to one another in
the process. It seemed like a pretty risky proposition... and even
more so as the facts behind the UARC organization continued to be
More and more of the team's claims were revealed to be false
and/or misleading. Early reports from UARC stated that famed
aerobatic pilot and industry legend, Corkey Fornof, had been named
as a member of the Board of Advisors (and was still posted as such
on the web site well after proven false) but in a June 2nd
conversation with ANN, Fornof confirmed that he has refused
involvement, not once, but twice, due to heavy schedule commitments
and his own concerns about the fledgling program.
More errors were found. Two of the few recognizable names on the
pilots list have some pretty negative baggage following them. The
most notable is David Riggs... who made news (again) last year
during sentencing for a well-known buzzing incident in which he was
implicated as the L-39 pilot who flew a very low pass over the
Santa Monica pier... and created some fairly anti-aviation press
reaction. The stunt, which occurred in November 2008, was allegedly
an effort to generate "buzz" for a movie. The FAA almost
immediately revoked Riggs' pilot certificate, but on March 17th of
2009, an administrative law judge modified that revocation order to
a 210 day suspension, and it was eventually reinstated.
Riggs was criminally charged and eventually sentenced by a
California Superior Court to 60 days in jail, 36 months probation,
and a $900 fine in connection with the incident. He was also
ordered to perform 60 days community service cleaning up Santa
Monica Beach -- and all of that sentence reportedly still awaits
imposition -- and could come at any time. It was not the only
legal/criminal altercation for Riggs -- who has a long
history, documented in a number of press reports, of his legal
altercations... one of which got him incarcerated in a foreign
prison for a year. He has created great enmity among a significant
portion of the aviation community... at least one of whom has gone
so far as to dedicate a web site to his alleged transgressions (www.aviationcriminal.com).
Riggs cautiously admitted to some problems in his past but
insisted that he had become the "FAA's Poster Child for Compliance"
since then and that he now enjoys an excellent relationship with
the FAA and promises to behave in a manner that promotes aviation
in a positive way. None of the FAA personnel consulted over the
past few months were willing to confirm those statements.
Chris Rounds was also named as a pilot for UARC and carries some
negative baggage in the airshow and the Oshkosh community for his
FAA suspension following a 2005 close intercept (while flying the
'Red Knight' T-33) of a Mitsubishi MU-2 turboprop near Wittman
field as well as a subsequent bust by the FAA for being aboard an
aircraft performing shortly thereafter (while his ticket was still
in suspension). The Tullahoma bust was dropped and the FAA
eventually declined to prosecute that incident (though the Oshkosh
suspension stood until the allotted time expired) but his $2
million dollar suit against Airshow Performer Julie Clark (for the
letter she wrote, reportedly at the request of the authorities, to
describe what she saw in Tullahoma), has rubbed many in the airshow
community the wrong way and created a significant negative backlash
where Rounds is concerned.
Rounds claims that the negativity is unjust, in that the Oshkosh
incident was improperly adjudicated and that the report of his
intercept of the MU-2 is "a lie." Rounds is wary of the attention
created by these circumstances and vehemently claims that he is the
victim of misrepresentations -- and that he was wronged by the MU-2
pilot, the FAA, the NTSB Law Judge, many others in the airshow biz
and Performer Julie Clark.
"I've done, and am doing, a lot of good things in my life and
nobody wants to remember those..." says Rounds.
In the meantime, the rest of the team appears to have had but
one somewhat nondescript practice session in the last year, and
assertions to the media (mostly local South California press) of
extensive experience, practice and skills on the part of the team
have been unverifiable.
At this point, the UARC races are a no-go... though the FAA has
offered to work with UARC to put together a demonstration flight
program that would NOT be the races claimed by UARC and would
require supervised demonstrations before the appropriate FAA
personnel could consent... With the Camarillo Airshow (which was to
be the team's debut event) a week away (August 20-21), little time
remains for the team to prove the far less aggressive, non-racing
demonstration is both possible as well as their competency to
undertake an approved flight profile. In the meantime, ANN must
note that there is still an airshow at the Camarillo Airport -- and
a pretty solid roster of performers to enjoy... air races
ANN remains in contact with FAA, airshow industry personnel and
air racing experts, who thus far seem to view the UARC program with
great concern over what might have happened if such an aggressive
and potentially hazardous race had been conducted and an accident
resulted... an event which would have the potential to create a
tremendous amount of adverse and anti-aviation media attention. We
will keep you informed as this matter progresses...