Lee Behel, Sport Class Founder, Dies in Reno Crash

Behel crashes after apparent structural failure.

Lee Behel GP-5 Sweet Dreams

Lee Behel GP-5 Sweet Dreams

Lee Behel and his GP-5, Sweet Dreams
(Photo: Marilyn Newton/Reno Gazette-Journal)

An airplane flying a qualifying race in the Sport Class at the National Championship Air Races near Reno, Nevada, crashed yesterday, killing the pilot on board. The pilot was identified by the Reno Air Race Association (RARA) as Lee Behel, one of the founders and the current president of the Sport Class, who was flying an airplane known as Sweet Dreams — a bright red experimental GP-5.

The accident occurred during a qualifying heat at the north end of the course, far from the spectator area, two days before the event was scheduled to open to the public. Nobody on the ground was hurt. While there is no official word on what may have caused the crash, multiple sources quoting firefighting officials and emergency officials on site, including the Reno Gazette Journal and CBS, said the airplane broke up in flight. The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating.

The races were stopped for the remainder of the day following the accident, which occurred around 3:30 p.m. yesterday. Qualifying heats have now resumed and the public event begins tomorrow.

Behel, 64, was from San Jose, California. He served in the Nevada Air National Guard for 24 years, flying the F-4 Phantom and F-101 Voodoo among others, the RARA website said.

Earlier this spring, Behel broke two records flying Sweet Dreams at an experimental aircraft gathering in Mojave, California. Behel was also scheduled to compete with another airplane in the Sport Class this year — a Lancair Legacy named Breathless. He was one of the founders and first pilots to fly in the Jet Class, which he was also scheduled to fly in this year.

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