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Air crash pilot Jimmy Leeward had always wanted to fly planes [Updated]

September 16, 2011 |  7:20 pm

Pilot Jimmy Leeward

Jimmy Leeward, identified as the pilot who flew the plane that crashed at the Reno Air Races on Friday, came from a family of pilots. Both of his parents flew, as did his two sons, a grandson and a granddaughter.

A statement released Friday evening from the National Championship Air Races said that Leeward, 74, had been piloting the Galloping Ghost, a P-51 Mustang, when he crashed at about 4:20 p.m. [Updated 7:51 p.m.: Earlier reports said Leeward was 80; Mike Houghton, president and chief executive of the Reno Air Racing Assn., later said he was 74.]

PHOTOS: Reno air show tragedy

A 2004 profile of Leeward in Plane and Pilot Magazine described the Tarentum, Pa., native as knowing he wanted to be a pilot as early as his childhood, when he cleaned and worked on planes. Leeward’s father flew at air shows, sold aircraft and flew charter planes, the magazine said.

FULL COVERAGE: Deadly crash at Reno air show

“Every summer, I lived at the airport. I worked during the day and slept at night in a hanger,” he told the magazine. “In the evenings, I would just fly anything we had on the field.”

Leeward’s day job was in real estate, but flying seemed to be his life. In 1980, he began building the Leeward Air Ranch, just north of Ocala, Fla.

And he was a successful pilot too. In 1986, the magazine said, his Cloud Dance plane, also a P-51 Mustang, won the unlimited silver race at the Reno Air Races. 

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-- Ron Lin

Photo: Longtime Reno Air Races pilot Jimmy Leeward on Sept. 15, 2010. A spokesman for Reno's National Championship Air Races said Leeward was flying the P-51 Mustang that crashed into a box-seat area at the front of the grandstand Friday. Credit: Marilyn Newton / Reno Gazette-Journal

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