6in Cruse w trophyVicki Cruse, an International Aerobatic Champion and president of the International Aerobatic Club (IAC) since 2005 was killed Saturday, Augst 22, 2009 in England just after noon. She was practicing for the World Aerobatic Championships being staged at Silverstone Racing Circuit, the home of British motor racing. No one else was injured in the incident. Vicki was also an Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) director and board member.

The 40 year old beloved pilot from Santa Paula, California, was pronounced dead at the scene. Mercifully, Vicki died instantly after her single-seat Zivko Edge 540 nosedived into the ground witnessed by  motoring enthusiasts attending a car club event at the track. The plane had been borrowed for the contest to avoid the cost of shipping a personal aircraft to England. Although team blog entries by Cruse late last week indicated she was having difficulty with the aircraft’s engine and ignition system, that problem had been corrected according to a team official.

Apparently, Vicki had completed a vertical climb and had pushed the nose over at the top in order to descend vertically. She then performed a one and one-quarter snap roll but was only able to slow, not stop the rotation that continued to the ground. Vicki was performing her “Q” flight, a qualifying routine in front of the judges when she was unable to recover from the snap on a downline. The plane crashed on the grass inside the racing circuit. British authorities, the Air Accidents Investigation Branch, is investigating the crash.

One eyewitness said: “She flew straight up in the air and then straight back down again. But she dropped straight into the ground.There was no fire and no smoke, just a terrible wreckage. An ambulance arrived very quickly but nobody took the pilot away. There was no way anyone was getting out of the wreckage.”

The World Aerobatic Championships, being staged over 13 days, is Silverstone’s first-ever air show.  Scheduled to run from August 17 to August 29, it has attracted around 60 pilots from 19 countries, all competing for the title of world champion. The championships have been staged every two years since their inception in 1960. The event will go on, Vicki surely would have wanted it that way, but in an abbreviated format.

Marathon Racing - Steve Fossett ALSRMarathon Racing - Steve Fossett ALSRI met Vicki when we were looking for qualified women who had the ovaries to drive the Fossett LSR jet powered car to a new world record around 800MPH.  In less than an hour after meeting her, I knew she was a “short-list”  candidate that could do America proud if we ever got the race car fully funded.

After our initial meeting in Reno at the race car shop, we met again out on El Mirage Dry Lake where she deftly buzzed our race team encampment in her gorgeous aerobatic plane waving her wings at us as she flew off to home in Santa Paula. She was the first woman to qualify in her class to race at the demanding Reno Air Races. I liked this gal with spunky wit who was always ready for a bit fun with a prank.

Vicki and I discovered we were neighbors in Ventura County and although we promised each other we would stay in touch after the Fossett program folded, our busy lives ensured that never happened. I am sorry she is gone from this mortal plane, she was one of those women who took visions and fashioned then into realities, a role model if ever there could be one.

The images posted here are from our times together, including one with a couple of her flying trophies – the damn things were as big as she was!  Many of her pilot pals may be thoroughly surprised by this news of driving a jet car, but if you knew Vicki, you knew she was always up for an adventure. Too soon, too young, too sad.

“The USA lost one of its most outstanding pilots, and the IAC lost the finest president we have ever had,” said American Team manager Norm DeWitt in a statement, “Vicki appeared to have suffered a mechanical problem in flight and was unable to bail out of her Edge 540 plane because of the low altitude at which she was flying. We all suffer the heartbreak of a horrific loss and extend our deepest sympathy to Vicki’s family.”

“Vicki was an outstanding competitor and was passionate about flying,” said Tom Poberezny, chairman and president of the Experimental Aircraft Association. “Her flying skills and enthusiasm were highly valued.”

Cruse was born in Springfield, Mo., and had logged more than 2,500 hours of flight time, nearly all of it in tail-wheel aircraft. She won the U.S. national unlimited aerobatic championship in 2007, and had been a member of the U.S. national team in 2002, 2004 and 2006, as well as this year. Among Cruse’s other aviation accomplishments were U.S. sportsman class national champion in 1998; intermediate division champion at the Championships of the Americas in 2000; and became the first woman to qualify to race in the sport class at the National Championship Air Races in Reno, Nev.

Cruse has been the owner of Berkut Engineering, a manufacturer of a tandem-seating two-seat homebuilt canard aircraft built primarily of carbon fiber and fiberglass  since 2001, but was no longer involved with day-to-day operations, but maintained ownership.

Cruse, whose educational and professional background was in marine biology, also wrote a technical counselor column for IAC’s monthly Sport Aerobatics magazine. She had served as IAC president since 2005.

The details surrounding her death were culled from a variety of British news sources whom I thank for assisting me in preparing the tragic report.



For on-site, original photographs and reproduction rights contact Louise Ann Noeth at 805.312.0893 or louise@landspeedproductions.biz

Development driver Don Wales suited up today on the Muroc dirt at Edwards Air Force Base to lay down a sizzlig pair of runs that qualify for another flying mile and flying kilo record — the second in two days for the British Steam Car Challenge! (see yesterday’s post for details) After weeks of grueling toil in withering desert heat, the Brits kept their wits and saved the best for last. Wales averaged 148.308 in the kilo and 148.166 in the mile.

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Muroc Dry Lake on the Edwards Air Force Base in southern California is the site of world record speed runs for the British Steam Car Challenge.

The team now has the happy duty of deciding which of the provisional records it will submit for ratification by the FIA World Sporting Council. Odds are that owner/driver Charles Burnett III will submit an application for certification that will give both he and Wales each a piece of world record glory pie.

Wales, is the grandson of Sir Malcolm Campbell, a noted icon in world record setting, and the nephew of Donald Campbell, Sir Malcolm’s son.  Wales is also the nephew of Donald Campbell, Sir Malcolm’s son, who also set plenty of speed records in the 1950s and 1960s before he died in 1967 when his speed boat (Bluebird) came apart in a spectacular 300MPH  crash on Coniston Lake in northern England.

Wales has had speed dreams with a car called the Bluebird Electric, but has yet to find any record-setting joy with the vehicle. It is thought that Wales might be eying an electric boat record in the future, but until then he will continue his work as a professional photographer.





British Steam Car Challenge financed and driven by American Charles Burnett III breaks the oldest World Land Speed Record

For on-site, original photographs and reproduction rights contact Louise Ann Noeth at 805.312.0893 or louise@landspeedproductions.biz

Steam Car Inspiration

Charles Burnett III nails the measured mile in his World Record bid for steam supremacy

Boiling across Edward’s Air Force Base in California on Tuesday,  August 25th, at 8:19am (PST) Charles Burnett III successfully broke the land speed record for a steam powered car – which has stood for more than 100 years – achieving an average speed of 139.843mph on two runs over a measured mile.

Driver Charles Burnett III piloted the car for both runs reaching a peak speed of 136.103mph on the first run and 151.085 mph on the second. The new international record, which is subject to official confirmation by the FIA, breaks the previous official FIA record of 127mph set in 1906 by American, Fred Marriott, driving a Stanley steamer at Daytona Beach.

As he was congratulated by his jubilant crew, principal driver, Charles Burnett III said: “It was absolutely fantastic I enjoyed every moment of it. We reached nearly 140mph on the first run before I applied the parachute. All systems worked perfectly, it was a really good run. The second run went even better and we clocked a speed in excess of 150 mph. The car really did handle beautifully. The team has worked extremely hard over the last 10 years and overcome numerous problems. It is a privilege to be involved with such a talented crew, what we have achieved today is a true testament to British engineering, good teamwork and perseverance.”

Steam Car Inspiration

Top Speed one-way for Inspiration the steam streamliner is 147MPH


Steam Car Inspiration

First run completed, the crew prepares Inspiration for her return world record run.

Steam Car Inspiration

Inspiration crewman gives last minute instructions to driver Charles Burnett III out on the the Muroc Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base



Project Manager Matt Candy said: “The first run took place at 7.27am when the air temperature was a cool 63 degrees Fahrenheit, the team turned around the car in 52minutes (with just 8 minutes spare) in preparation for its return run.  The British Steam Car takes 2.5 miles to accelerate and after the measured mile, a further 2.5 miles to decelerate – so each run was over 6.5 miles. The FIA requires that the return run takes place within 60 minutes. The times of the two runs are then averaged to obtain the official recorded speed. Compared to the testing we did in Britain, the British Steam Car ran 12 times the distance and twice the maximum speed ­– all within one hour. It’s been a huge challenge for all.

Pam Swanston wife of the late project manager Frank Swanston was overcome with emotion after seeing Charles power the supercar across the dry lake bed, she said: “If only Frank was here today, it was his vision that made it a reality. He would be incredibly proud of the team’s achievements and always believed we would succeed. Today we celebrate this record for Frank.”


Steam Car Inspiration
On the nose of Inspiration rests the British Union Jack and the American Stars and Stripes, symbolic of the joint national world speed record effort
Steam Car Inspiration
Charles Burnett III tears away form the starting line on his way to World Record glory driving Inspiration the steam streamliner

Weighing three tons, the sleek 25-ft British Steam Car is made from a mixture of lightweight carbon-fiber composite and aluminum wrapped around a steel space frame chassis. It is fitted with 12 boilers containing nearly two miles of tubing. Demineralised water is pumped into the boilers at up to 50 litres a minute and the burners produce three megawatts of heat. Steam is superheated to 400 degrees Celsius which is injected into the turbine at more than twice the speed of sound.


Driver Charles Burnett III was born in England in 1956 and educated in South Africa and the United States.  As a legitimate tri-national – his mother was Canadian and his father American – he inherited a love for travel and all things mechanical from his father, who raced hydroplanes and restored Hudson automobiles.

A long-time powerboat enthusiast, Charles set up Vulture Ventures, a UK-based offshore racing team, which soon became known as the world’s most successful team in the sport.  During this time, Charles took a variety of world records using catamarans and monohulls powered by diesel, petrol and LPG. He was included in the Guinness Book of World Records in 1999 for an offshore water speed record of 137mph.

The team acknowledges the achievements of the “Barber-Nichols Team”. Their vehicle ‘Steamin’ Demon’ is/was currently the fastest steam car in the world. In 1985 The Barber-Nichols Team carried out three successful passes and achieved an American National Record at 145.607mph. There was no attempt to establish an FIA record. However, the British Steam Car team recognized this speed as the record to exceed.

For on-site, original photographs and reproduction rights contact Louise Ann Noeth at 805.312.0893 or louise@landspeedproductions.biz

Check Back later for detailed commentary on the project.

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