SHAFTER, Calif. (KERO) — One man is dead after the vintage plane he was flying crashed near Minter Field in Shafter.
The Kern County Fire Department says the man was flying a World War II plane that had been converted for air racing competition.
Several witnesses confirmed to 23ABC that the pilot was Sherman Smoot, considered a local legend in the air racing community. The Estrella Warbirds Museum in Paso Robles also confirmed the pilot was Smoot.
Recently, Smoot was interviewed by Scripps affiliate KSBY for an event that honored veterans.
According to officials with the Warbirds Museum, Smoot was their former president and was currently a board member. He was set to be the keynote speaker at the museum’s 30th-anniversary celebration on September 12th.
Born in San Luis Obispo, Smoot was raised in North Slo County. He entered Navy flight school in 1971 and left active duty in 1977 to pursue an airline career with continental airlines.
He retired from Continental in 2005 after 28 years. And ever since he’s been involved in racing warbirds.
The National Transportation Safety Board confirmed that the plane was a Yakovlev YAK-11, an aircraft used by the Soviet Air Force from 1947 until 1962, nicknamed “Czech Mate.” It was reportedly being rebuilt in preparation for the upcoming reno air races.
Smoot was the only person on board.
“Sherman has been an avid air racer in the unlimited class for years, racing various aircraft, but most known for racing Czech Mate. Unlimited Air Racing in Reno is known as the Bad Boys of Air Racing as they are typically racing modified WWII aircraft. This year Sherman and Czech Mate were a favorite to win with the current listed field. Sherman is among the legends when it comes to Air Racing, never winning the gold, everyone was excited for this to be the year! For the last 4 years Sherman had raced a Sea Fury for another plane owner, and this year was to be the return of Czech mate,” said photographer Curtis Noble, who photographed Smoot at a recent air show in Reno.
KCFD says the plane had, “some difficulty on takeoff,” shortly before the crash.
Members of this community have been expressing their condolences across social media Friday afternoon.
The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration are investigating the crash.
“We are investigating the crash today of a Yakovlev YAK-11. Don’t have many more verified facts to release at this time. A preliminary report will be published in 2-3 weeks that will provide some answers, but the probable cause will be issued at the end of the investigation, which could take a year or more,” said Eric Weiss with the NTSB.