Joey “Gordo” Sanders is a retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, but he hasn’t let retirement slow him down. Along with owning one of the premier flight schools in the southeast, Sanders Aviation in Jasper, he is an accomplished air race and air show demo pilot.

Sanders and his crew were in Reno, Nevada, for the National Championship Air Races this month. Sanders’ daughter, Jessica Sanders Walker, was along for the ride.

“The race was great Friday,” said Walker. “We came in second place in the Silver T-6 class competition Friday.”

Sanders has won the Silver T-6 class several times before, but Walker said, with air quality conditions and a fatal crash over the weekend during the jet competition, they were happy to make it back to Alabama safely.

“After everything that happened out in Reno this year, just racing at all and coming back and landing safely and getting the plane back in the pit is all you need,” Walker added. “We have been a contender.”

The crew had to go to Reno a week before the races for safety checks and inspections.

Walker said the Reno Air Racing Association brings experts in to make sure everyone is being as safe as possible. However, there is always the chance for tragedy when you are flying.

“The family of the pilot that lost his life was there,” said Walker. “The only thing they need to know is that everybody is so sorry for what they’re going through. There is nothing anybody can say that can make it better. That is a huge family that is out there, and everybody does truly love and respect each other.”

The plane Sanders always flies at the race is one of the longest-running air racing planes in the world. The T-6 Texan is named Big Red and was a trainer plane during World War II. She was built in 1943, and her first tour of duty was in Pensacola, Florida.

“She’s a tough old bird,” Walker said. “I love that airplane. We’ve been around airplanes my entire life and to be able to do what we do every day revolves around the airplanes. They’re like family. These planes have been good to us, and we’ve been good to them. But Big Red is just legendary. We’ve got kids that will run up to us in Reno, and they’ve drawn pictures of Big Red with their crayons and want to give them to the pilots because she is Big Red, and she’s very noticeable.”

Reno has been the home of the National Championship Air Races for over 50 years.

“This was our 18th year,” said Walker. “Big Red won the Gold Championship in 1972 as Miss Eufaula.”

Gordo Sanders is a name that is familiar in the aviation world. He has instructed pilots from all over, and he holds various type-ratings and is an A&P Mechanic certificate, a Certified Flight Instructor and a certified aerobatic pilot. He is also an FAA Designated Pilot Examiner.

SEE ALSO: Sander’s Aviation – Flying high in Walker County

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