A well-known member of the vintage aircraft community and board member of the Estrella Warbirds Museum was killed in a plane crash Friday in Shafter.
Representatives of the museum confirmed that the pilot was Sherman Smoot.
According to the Kern County Fire Department, he was flying a World War II plane that had been converted for air racing competition. It happened at Minter Field Airport.
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," photographer Curtis Noble, who photographed Smoot at a recent air show in Reno, told KSBY News sister station 23ABC.
The Kern County Fire Department said the plane had, "some difficulty on takeoff," shortly before the crash.
Smoot was a past president of the Estrella Warbirds Museum in Paso Robles.
Last weekend, he flew 17 local veterans on a special flight over the Central Coast in a World War II C-47 aircraft known as "Betsy's Biscuit Bomber."
According to his bio on the museum's website, Smoot was a Navy pilot in the 1970s before working for Continental Airlines. He flew in the Reno Air Races for more than 20 years and won the AT-6/SNJ national championship in 1996.
Smoot was also co-owner of Bella Luna Estate Winery and was married with a son and daughter. He was 74 years old.
The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration are investigating the crash.