Air Show Pilot Dies Hauling Freight

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Described by colleagues as "one of the top three or four performers" in the business, air show pilot Eric Beard, 48, died Friday when the Piper Seneca he was flying crashed in fog about 400 yards short of the runway at Skagit Regional Airport near Burlington, Wash. Beard was perhaps better-known for flying a rare Yak-54 nicknamed Russian Thunder in air shows all over the world. On Friday he was flying for Airpac Airlines, a Seattle-based cargo company. He worked part-time for Airpac and also worked for Boeing. His last transmission to Whidbey Island approach was normal and there was no indication of an emergency, according to Tom Peterson, air search coordinator with the state department of transportation. "He was supposed to call once he got on the ground," Peterson told KOMO News. "They did not hear from him and the people waiting for him on the ground reported that he didn't call in or make it." Beard is survived by his wife Diane and four children. Beard held two degrees from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and worked for NASA on both the space shuttle and Titan rocket programs. He began flying aerobatics in the early 1980s and performed for 13 years, including appearances at EAA AirVenture and other major shows. The Yak-54 is one of seven aircraft purpose-built for aerobatics in 1996 by the Yakevlev Design Bureau. Fred Rosenfelder, the air boss for three major Seattle-area air shows, said that not only was Beard a top performer, he was a meticulous pilot. "He always knew his routine. He was meticulous with the safety of his routine and if it wasn't right, it wouldn't happen," Rosenfelder said.