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Bend-based Havoc Air Racing team preparing for National Championship Air Races in Reno

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Sean “Skippy” Van Hatten has been around planes his whole life, and is looking to take home a victory as the race pilot for Havoc Air Racing.

“When we go racing, the only thing that matters is speed,” Van Hatten said. “So it's, 'How fast can this airplane go in the big left turn around in Reno?' We compromise everything else, in the name of speed.”

The Bend-based aviation team travels to Reno this weekend for the National Championship Air Races.

“Its wingtip-to-wingtip racing. It’s the only wingtip-to-wingtip racing in the world where we actually put eight airplanes out on the course at the same time,” Van Hatten said. “We're relatively low to the ground with seven of your closest friends around you, that you’re trying to beat going about 350 to 400 miles an hour.”

It’s Van Hatten’s seventh time competing at the Reno races. 

He’s been obsessed with flying since his first flight at 9 years old.

Van Hatten recalled, "You’re sitting underneath the panel you can barely see underneath the instrument screen, but just being in the air was a really profound experience.”

He got his private pilot license as a senior in high school, graduated from the COCC aviation program and eventually became a flight test and race pilot.

“To be able to put all those pieces together, especially when you’re very practiced at it, you can find those 'flow state' moments, where things just gel and you’re one with the machine,” Van Hatten said.

He earned his call sign “Skippy” after skipping onto the runway in an emergency.

"It ended up screeching to a fiery halt, caught on fire, flames were coming up the side of the cockpit, jumped through the plane and ran away from the airplane,” Van Hatten recalled about the crash landing. “The whole tent went wild, they're like, ‘Ah, new call sign!’.”

But now he's a well-experienced pilot, with a great feel for the sky and a hunger to win.

“Once I found out that people actually race airplanes -- 'That's just awesome! We need to go do that!'” Van Hatten said. “I never thought that I would be on the other side of the fence. I thought that I would only ever be a spectator. To actually get to the other side of the fence, to be a pilot in the race, is just an absolute dream come true. It's something I never thought I’d be able to achieve.”

“The next step of, 'Oh we achieved this goal,' is to go win!”

Van Hatten and his crew leave for Reno saturday.

There will also be a team from Redmond/Prineville competing.

The about 6.5 minute races will be streamed live, and you can watch here.

Article Topic Follows: Sports

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Noah Chast

Noah Chast is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Noah here.


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