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EAST WENATCHEE — Which end is forward?

Lew Miller of Wenatchee hears that a lot when people see his “Long-EZ,” the rear-propelled and rear-winged plane he built in his garage.

“People always want to know which way it goes. It goes that way,” said Miller, 60, gesturing to the craft’s front — the end many mistake for the rear.

The unusual-looking craft was one of 10 single-engine planes to compete Saturday in the region’s first “sports air race” at Pangborn Memorial Airport.

Planes in Saturday’s pack were mostly “experimental” — built from kits or plans. Pilots from Northern California, Nevada, Idaho and other parts of Washington joined four local pilots, including Miller.

The 144-mile, timed race covered a trapezoidal course through the skies of Chelan, Douglas and Grant counties without most of us having any idea it was going on.

Speed and navigation are both key to winning.

Racers took off to the northwest, one at a time, from Pangborn at 15- to 30-second intervals.

As they crossed Grant Road, groundspeople starting timing.

Their course took them over the confluence of the Wenatchee and Columbia rivers northeast to Brewster, then southeast to Mansfield, south to Quincy and then northwest back to Pangborn.

The bright red roof of H2 Pre-Cast Inc. in the Battermann Industrial Park off of Grant Road marked the finish line.

The fastest planes, capable of nearly 300 mph, departed Pangborn first. Miller took off in the middle of the pack in his EZ, with its cruising speed of about 195 mph.

“The biggest secret to winning is having a faster plane,” said Miller, a nuclear-industry consultant who moved to Wenatchee from Tri Cities two years ago. “But it’s also about navigation. It’s kind of like sailing. You have to make decisions along the way to account for wind.”

Wenatchee pilot Tim Bovee organized Saturday’s event, which he said was the Sport Air Racing League’s first-ever West Coast race.

Pilots don’t earn prizes, but accumulate points in the league standings.

Bovee, 49, is a life-long area resident. He raced in his white Mustang II, a kit plane that he bought already assembled.

He started toward the back of the pack, but passed the competitor ahead of him before landing.

Saturday was his first race. He’s been a pilot since 1995.

“We’re not competing head-to-head. We’re competing with ourselves,” Bovee said. “There’s some competitive spirit out there, but it’s also about getting out and doing what you enjoy with others.”

Miller said he began building his EZ in 1980 and finished it about 4 years later at a cost of about $30,000. He’s flown it from Alaska to Florida and around the country.

A Long-EZ was the kind of plane that singer John Denver piloted when he ran out of gas and fatally crashed into the Pacific Ocean of the California coast in 1997.

Saturday’s race was free of mishaps and replete with jubilant pilots.

“I may not have been the fastest, but nobody passed me,” Miller said.

Christine Pratt: 665-1173

[email protected]

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