Lachie Onslow of Fleet Helicopters in Armidale has been a pilot for 21 years. His skills have grown from helping his family’s aerial super spreading business in regional Australia to racing jets in Reno, Nevada, USA.
Have you grown up around aircraft?
Yes, I have always been around aircraft from my first memory. My father had a small aeroplane called a Thorpe T111, and I would annoy him continually to take me flying.
When did you get your pilot licence ?
I flew solo for the first time two days after my 16th birthday, achieved my private licence at 17 and commercial licence at 18. I started flying helicopters when I was 21 and now hold a commercial licence in both aeroplanes and helicopters.
Describe your career at Fleet Helicopters?
I’ve had a fantastic career at Fleet. It has led me into an enormous range of diverse operations in all parts of the country, from fire fighting, film work, power line construction and survey, flood relief, National Parks support, tourism and long line aerial crane.
I have been in the fortunate position to watch Fleet Helicopters develop and grow from one helicopter into a strong national aviation company. During this time, I have seen both challenges and exciting innovations with the aviation industry.
We have been able to introduce revolutionary fire fighting water buckets, satellite tracking equipment, and we were the first commercial helicopter company to fit Data Acquisition and Alarm Monitoring systems to our aircraft, contributing significantly to safety.
I have met and gotten to know lots of interesting people from all parts of Australia, and the work has taken me to many different parts of the country.
Who introduced you to Air Racing ?
A good friend of mine, John Kokshoorn, from the Gold Coast was racing Formula 1 aeroplanes at Reno four years ago, and I was planning to go along as his pit crew. Unfortunately, there was a huge fire season that year, and I was unable to make the trip.
I then rang him a few months later to see how he went, and by the time I hung up the phone, he had somehow convinced me to fly his aeroplane and try out at the qualifying week later that year.
When did you start Onslaught Air Racing?
I started Onslaught Air Racing in my first year of racing in the Formula 1 Class. Each team needs an identity for the fans to relate to. We have a web page: www.onslaughtairracing.com and a Facebook page that allows fans, friends and family to keep up to date with our efforts in the fastest motor sport in the world.
Describe the aircraft you race in?
I race a Polish built two-seat jet fighter called a WSK TS-11 Iskra. The Iskra produces 2,200 lbs of thrust, with a top speed of MACH 0.80. At one point, the Iskra held the world speed record for its class. Iskra is a Polish word for spark, and it’s still used as an operational jet fighter.
What event have you just returned from, and how did it go ?
I have just returned from the National Championship Air Races in Reno, Nevada. I raced in the ‘Jet’ class, which consists of 8 jets per race over an 8.4 mile (13.5 km) course. The aircraft typically fly at 50 ft (only 15 m!) above the ground and at 500 miles/hour, which is about 2 football fields per second.
The air races differ from the well known Red Bull air races, in that all 8 aircraft are on the course at once (like a motor race) and the pylons are made of steel and concrete (not air inflated).
What happened in Reno in September?
The first 3 days at Reno were devoted to practice and gaining a qualifying time in order to get your position on the grid for the first heat race.
Thursday saw the first of 2 heat races for the Jet Class. I started 3rd on the grid in heat 1B and flew a nil time penalty race to pull off a win in the first race. This placed me in overall 6th position in the field of 16.
Friday had me starting at sixth in heat race 2A. After a having a battle with fellow Australian, Mark Pracy, in the number 7 placed jet ‘Blank Czech’, I managed to hold him out and finish still in 6th position.
Things were looking good for the Onslaught team, the jet was running well, and I was starting to get faster times each time I went out. Unfortunately, the next two days of racing would never happen, due to a horrific crash in the last race on Friday afternoon that led to the cancellation of the rest of the event.
What’s next with Onslaught Air Racing ?
We are now working on a new Iskra jet that will be much lighter with more thrust and some very secret modifications. In early to mid-February, I will be in America starting our testing regime.
Onslaught Air Racing hopefully has a bright future. We hope to have everything running smoothly by June for the first practice sessions.