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Reno Crash Claims Pilot Lee Behel
September 9, 2014 – Wesley “Lee” Behel, EAA Lifetime 278620, was killed Monday, September 8, when his GP-5 airplane Sweet Dreams crashed during a Reno National Championship Air Races Sport class heat race at Reno-Stead Airport, Nevada. He was 64.
The aircraft suffered what is being reported as a catastrophic mechanical failure and crashed at the north end of the race course at approximately 3:30 p.m. Racing was suspended by the Reno Air Racing Association for the rest of the day on Monday but resumed Tuesday morning. The FAA and the NTSB are investigating the cause of the accident.
Behel, of Saratoga, California, was a longtime Reno veteran and founder of the Sport class in 1998. He was also Sport class president and a former Sport class champion.
“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.”
Behel served in the Nevada Air National Guard for 24 years (1972-1996) before retiring as a Lt. Colonel. During his ANG career Behel flew the F-101 Voodoo and the RF-4C Phantom. He holds the 100- and 500- kilometer closed course world speed records in the RF-4C.
He was also a 15-year veteran of the AirVenture Cup Race, first flying in the 2000 event with his 10-year-old son Jay, according to chairman Eric Whyte. Jay flew in the race himself the past two years.
Over the years in Reno and Oshkosh, Behel piloted such experimental aircraft as a Questair Venture, his Lancair Legacy Breathless, a Lancair IV-P, the one-of-a-kind Lancair Sentry, and the GP-4. He flew the GP-5 to the best overall time for a piston aircraft in the 2013 AirVenture Cup race, which also marked the plane’s first appearance at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh. (Read the story on the airplane from EAA AirVenture Today.)
Behel set three new world records with the GP-5 at the Mojave Experimental Fly-In this past April, including: speed over 3-kilometer course, 377.6 mph, breaking previous record of 356.1 mph set by Jon Sharp, EAA 239592, in the Nemesis NXT (1998); 3,000 meters time-to-climb, 2:00, breaking previous record , 2:20, set by Bruce Bohannon, EAA 169040, in the Bohannon 1 (1999); and speed over 15-kilometer course, 378.7 mph, breaking the previous record of 358.8 mph set by MayCay Beeler in a Questair Venture (1989).
A tribute for Behel is currently being planned and will take place later this week. More details will be provided as they become available at www.airrace.org.