Air races pilot killed in crash

RENO - A pilot was killed in a crash Saturday while tuning up for the annual Reno National Championship Air Races, authorities said.

Formula One racer Erica Simpson, 32, of Phillipsburg, N.J., was preparing for her second year as a competitor in the event when her aircraft crashed at Reno-Stead Airport.

"Erica was a highly skilled pilot and a fierce competitor, but more importantly she was a friend," said Mike Houghton, president of the air races. "This has been a difficult day for all of us - Erica's friends and aviation family - and we will deeply miss her smile and energy."

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said the wings of Simpson's homebuilt, single-engine Cassult IIIM broke off as she was performing a roll.

Organizers were observing her as part of the certification process to allow her to perform in the weeklong event, which begins Monday with qualifying runs, Gregor said.

Simpson, a commercial pilot who was raised in Port Wing, Wis., competed in the biplane class in 2006.

Three pilots were killed in competition during last year's air races. There now have been 19 fatalities in the 45-year history of the event.

The 9 a.m. crash is under investigation by the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board.

Four FAA safety officials were present when the crash occurred, Gregor said.

Racing opens to the public Wednesday through Sunday after completion of qualifying runs.

A tribute to Simpson is planned to take place during the opening ceremonies, organizers said.

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