Nothing can stop Steve Tumlin from soaring.
After a one-year hiatus after a plane crash outside of Minden — and making a comeback by competing in his first race at the Reno Air Races —the Carson City pilot is preparing to fly “Feisty” in Thailand skies against 17 international professional pilots.
“With the truly world-class caliber of pilots going head-to-head for the title, it promises to be an exhilarating competition,” he said.
From Nov. 17-19, Tumlin, 55, is contending for the Best Air Racing Pilot title in the Air Race 1 World Cup at U-Tapao airport — southeast of Bangkok — in his 1979 Cassutt IIIM named Feisty.
Decked out in a turbulent yellow, with illustrations of No. 52 and a scruffy black cat by the cockpit, Tumlin might be easy to spot in the tangled terrains.
“Flying it is like giving a cat a bath,” he said. “She will bite and scratch you, but it’s a smooth flying airplane.”
His daughter, Sierra, will be by his side as crew chief; an element of success also comes in the designers, engineering teams and ground crew support in the pits.
To ensure a fair competition between pilots, each plane must be built to a specific formula that covers most aspects of the race plane’s characteristics, including wing area, weight, and engine size.
“My biggest obstacle is flying as safe as I can,” Tumlin said. “But at the same time, it’s no different flying around the mountains. I’ve had good training.”
His gained skills from Steve Temple, a long-time Air Force, airline, and racing pilot in Northern Nevada and California areas. Temple also will be racing in Thailand with Tumlin in his “Quadnickel” — also a Cassutt IIIM.
“Without the confidence, I wouldn’t be doing this,” Tumlin said. “I got a concussion from the crash and I thought I was done for.”
But along with Temple, Tumlin raced Feisty in his first air show competition in September, at the 54th annual National Championship Reno Air Races.
Tumlin placed fourth in two Formula One class race events.
“I may be on the back of the bus, but at least I’m on the bus,” he said.
Although this is his first year as a pilot, Tumlin’s fervor for flying started at age 8 and influenced his long-time career as a chief mechanic.
Because of his skill and passion in the field, he received the nickname, “The Doctor,” from aircraft enthusiasts.
“I worked on 80 percent of formulas in Reno throughout the years,” he said. “If people needed parts or had issues with an aircraft, I became the doctor. I always help diagnose issues.”
Although Tumlin lived in California for 37 years, he moved to the Carson City area for specific reasons.
“I moved here for air racing,” he said. “My flying buddies also live here and I needed to be closer. It was a natural progression and I wanted to adapt their skills.”
As a technical and mechanical guru in aircraft, Tumlin has always been a part of races, including Air Race 1 competitions.
But now, Tumlin is making his dream come true as an air race pilot — something he’s always wanted to do, he said.
“These races are not for everyone,” he said. “I won’t know until I get there, but I can do this.”