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From the ground, the planes in the air almost looked like toys.

Partially, this was because of how the distance shrank them. But the dives, loops, rolls and vertical climbs seemed impossible — like something no human pilot would do.

But human pilots were indeed flying the planes practicing above the Corvallis Municipal Airport in preparation for the Corvallis Corkscrew, an aerobatic contest taking place today and Saturday. The event, being held for the third time, is sanctioned by the International Aerobatic Club and hosted by the Oregon chapter of the organization.

Travis Forsman, a Corvallis native who is contest director for this year’s Corkscrew, said the event has attracted more pilots each year. This year he expects 25 to 28 pilots.

Pilots are typically from Oregon, Washington and California, he said, and the event is the only competition like it in the state all year.

Forsman said flights start around 9 a.m. both days, and a plane is taking off every eight to ten minutes through the day. Today flights are expected to continue until about 5 p.m.; Saturday flights should be finished by about 2 p.m.

Forsman said pilots do their figures for about five minutes in a one kilometer square above the airport and nearby farmland, with the action taking place below 3,500 feet and some planes flying as low as 328 feet.

“This is the opportunity to catch what is basically a free airshow,” he said, but added that planes are a little more distant from viewing areas than in most airshows.

“It’s a great family event,” he said.

Forsman, who will be competing himself, said he tries to fly a couple times a week and even more in the leadup to competitions. He said completing a flight without any errors makes the work worthwhile.

“We fly the coolest of the cool airplanes,” he said. “These are the Ferraris of airplanes, whereas a Cessna is a station wagon.”

Susan Bell, who came up from Pasadena, California, for the competition, said the challenge is what drew her to aerobatic competitions.

“This is like figure skating in the sky, but with a bit more speed,” said Bell, who paints her nails to match the blue and pink colors of her “plane baby,” an Extra 300.

Bell, who works in earth science communications at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said the competitions are all about precision. She added that flights are very draining because of the focus required and the gravitational forces pilots feel.

“A four-minute flight will just wipe you out,” she said.

Anthony Rimel covers education and can be reached at anthony.rimel@lee.net, 541-758-9526, or via Twitter @anthonyrimel.

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