Florida rookie Jason Newburg wins at Reno

When something bad happens, a lot of people can let it get them down. Not Jason Newburg, who took something bad and turned it into victory.

The Edgewater, Florida, aerobatics performer bought a Pitts Special S-1 in Jamaica. When it arrived in Florida, he found it had been damaged in shipping. The plane, now named “Jamaica Mistaka,” became the catalyst for Newburg entering the Silver biplane class at the Reno Air Races last year — and winning.

“I needed some motivation to get the airplane finished,” he admits.

With his eye ultimately on qualifying for the Red Bull Air Races, an international competition, he decided he should finish the Pitts and race it at Reno to “get another check mark on my resume.”

“I didn’t think for a minute I would go out and win my first race,” he says. “It was a good experience for my flying — and a good experience that I won it!”

The owner of Inverted U.S., a company that specializes in maintenance for aerobatic aircraft, Newburg, 37, has been involved in aviation since he was a child growing up in North Toronto, Canada. His father, Ron Newburg, built several airplanes and was involved in some of the first International Aerobatic Club competitions.

“As I was growing up, I spent a lot of time at airports,” Newburg says.

He completed several rebuild projects and, of course, continued flying with his father. He estimates that about half of his 5,500 hours is in backcountry flying.

“But I always had aerobatics in the back of mind,” he says. “I just couldn’t afford it until my late 20s.”

After getting his pilot ratings, he then added A&P and IA licenses. He also determined that Toronto wasn’t very good for day-to-day flying so, like many people, moved to Florida.

That’s where he opened his shop in 2003. “We only work on aerobatic aircraft,” he notes. “I opened the shop because I needed a high level of maintenance for my airplane.”

Helping him run the shop is long-time girlfriend Sharon Thomson, also a pilot.

Newburg began flying in aerobatic competitions in 1996 in a Pitts S-1C.

For his first competition, he showed up at the airport in Sebring, Florida, and let them know he was ready to compete. “It was intimidating at first, but I was amazed at how people would take the time to offer critiques,” he says. “After that first contest, I was hooked.”

He now serves as president of the Daytona Beach chapter of the IAC, adding he’s “committed to giving newcomers the same first experience that I had.”

READY TO RACE

Also intimidating, he admits, was his first trip to Reno.

The first challenge, of course, was getting his Pitts ready to compete.

Unlike aerobatics, where pilot skill is paramount, in Reno, the aircraft is the deciding factor, he says. “If the airplane is not fast, it doesn’t matter how good a pilot you are,” he says. “A wise friend of mine, Gene McNeely of the Aeroshell Team, told me ‘when you get to Reno, fly what you have. If you get there and the airplane is too slow, it’s too late.’ He was right.”

Newburg spent the better part of 2006 intensely focused on getting the Pitts ready to race. He couldn’t afford a lot of modifications, but did approach one sponsor, ElectroAir of Waterford, Mich., for installation of an electronic ignition system. While the Pitts’ normal cruise is 2,800 rpm, race rpm required strong acceleration to a peak of 3,280. With Reno at roughly a mile above msl, the electronic ignition system automatically compensates for altitude and the computer adjusts timing every 6° of crankshaft rotation — just what was needed for the race he was facing.

“At Reno, a lot of other airplanes are heavily sponsored,” he says. “When I got there, I thought, ‘I’m am out of my league here.’ I saw a lot of innovative technology that I couldn’t afford.”

Newburg caught people’s attention from the beginning at Reno. Late in arriving, he got only one chance to qualify — and he did at 184.517 mph. That put him in fifth place for the start of the first qualifying heat.

At Reno, aircraft are grouped in classes according to speed and type. For Gold in the biplane class, the typically slick composite aircraft achieve speeds of 190 to 250 mph. Next is the Silver class, typically modified biplanes and competitive specials piloted by experienced competitors. Newburg’s rookie time put him behind many of these previous winners. The first heat saw him move up to fourth, while he ended the second heat in position two.

In the final race, Newburg faced seven competitors. Taking off at position two, he was clearly in the lead by the first turn. Six laps later, he had won the Silver Trophy with a speed of 189.657.

“I was shocked to get ahead of those guys,” Newburg says.

Actually, he was more than shocked — during the final heat he thought the race had been cancelled. “About halfway through the race, you can look for the shadows of the other guys and see how far back those shadows are,” he says. “I looked back and there were no shadows, so I thought ‘maybe the race has been cancelled.’ Then I saw a couple of planes on the front stretch and I knew it was on.”

THE FUTURE

Newburg will return to Reno this year, flying in either the biplane class again or maybe the T-6 class. “I’ll make that decision early this year, but I definitely will be back,” he says.

He’ll also continue on his quest to compete in the Red Bull Air Races. He attended the Red Bull Rookie Training Camp last year in Phoenix, learning all he could from veteran competitor Kirby Chambliss, the winner of this year’s competition.

To compete in the Red Bull races, he must get an invitation. Working toward that goal, he’ll continue his aerobatic shows, which is a requirement for the Red Bull races. Mentored by air show greats Michael Goulian and Jim LeRoy, Newburg flies his air shows for free as a way to build time and experience.

“I love flying for people,” he says.

For more information: 386-426-6093 or Inverted.US.

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