Straight up with the Firecat at the Truckee air fair |

Straight up with the Firecat at the Truckee air fair

Evan and Wilhelmine Peers
Special to the Sun
Courtesy Justin Bowen

TRUCKEE, Calif. — This year, the Truckee Tahoe AirFair & Family Festival is excited to feature the experience of a jet performance.

Five hundred miles per hour and 100 feet above the runway, Rich Perkins pulls his red and yellow jet skyward. Climbing vertically to 6,000 feet, he becomes a dot in the sky.

In a move that appears as if he is flying backward, he is easing into his aerobatic routine, in his Aerodovochony L-39 Albatros, dancing to music he mixed and generated himself.

Pilot Rich Perkins is an aerospace engineer by training, a pilot by profession, and an artist by nature. He has accumulated more than 10,000 flight hours in more than 100 planes.

Getting to know Rich Perkins is to discover a renaissance man. He is self taught in most all his endeavors, and there are many. His desire to know drives him to read and listen with great interest.

Aviation being his first love, Rich has amassed an outstanding knowledge base of planes, their specification, and performance capabilities. Nothing escapes his attention.

Following a dream

Clearly, Rich Perkins is ambitious, confident and creative. His fearlessness, the need to understand everything, and his drive to follow his dreams, came from a nurturing family environment. His family encouraged him to try everything, instilling in him an appreciation for every endeavor.

Growing up he was like a sports fanatic “only about airplanes,” he explains.

“When I was 5 years old, someone who worked with my mother gave me a model of a Ford Tri-Motor. It was quite a complicated model but I managed to put it together without any help,” he said. “It was a total mess. There was too much glue, the wings sagged, but I loved that model. Right then, that’s when I fell in love with aviation — building something that had to do with aviation rather than just watching.”

His dream of becoming a pilot never wavered. Since it was not economically possible to become a pilot, he chose the academic route.

His high grades earned him an Air Force scholarship for an aerospace engineering degree. So he joined the military, and at last took flight.

Military to civilian flight

He earned his flight qualifications at the top of his class. He began by flying the C-130 Hercules. His desire to be a fighter pilot led him to become an instructor for the supersonic T-38 Talon.

He created the academic courseware, instructional audio visuals and introduced computer assisted instruction to Air Force pilot training.

Always ambitious, Rich chose to volunteer for the notoriously most dangerous assignment possible — flying the U-2 spy plane at the edge of space.

The irony doesn’t escape Rich.

“I have flown the U-2, an aircraft which once flew covert missions over the Soviet Union,” he explains, “and now I am flying one of their jets in American free airspace.”

How the world has changed. He now flies the Czechoslovakian-built L-39 Albatros. Rich named it aptly “Firecat” and added a stunning paint scheme. The “airshow camo” on his Firecat is recognizable and outstanding.

Rich is a true showman. He performs to his own mix of music much of which he computer generated, and has choreographed his act to the music.

The Firecat is an impressive 2-seat plane, with 4,000 pounds of thrust which can move the aircraft at more than 500 mph — at full throttle it could fly from Truckee to San Francisco in 17 minutes.

New adventures

Even before retiring from the Air Force, Rich established his aerobatic flight school “Attitude Aviation” in 1997.

He flies the Yak 55M, Yak 52, and is one of a few qualified Yak 54 pilots. Students at the school can learn to fly a number of planes from the Piper Cub to the Pitts.

Interested students can take on the challenge of training in the L-39. Visit to see full of information on the pilot, the performances, and meticulous specs of the Firecat.

Rich’s continuing interests are endless — flying and working with experimental aircraft, auto restoration, kayaking, hiking, free diving, hang gliding, scuba diving, photography, visual and performing arts.

Rich also loves writing and would love to turn his attention to writing fiction, much like the novels by accomplished author Tom Clancy. His ambition is always reaching for more challenges and new adventures.

The Truckee Tahoe AirFair & Family Festival is Saturday, July 6, at the Truckee Tahoe Airport. Visit for information.

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