Many married couples have a preferred side of the bed—for Jon and Patricia Sharp, the husband and wife duo behind Nemesis Air Racing, it’s a preferred side of the hangar.
Patricia, the composite designer who fabricates parts for the team’s aircraft, kept her side tidy. Her husband’s space, where he assembled the aircraft, not so much. (He described it as “chaos, hair on fire,” kind of mess, and Patricia didn’t disagree.) But it’s a system that gets the job done, as proven by the couple’s running list of world speed records with their Nemesis and Nemesis NXT designs.
The couple’s collaboration—alongside their robust team, plus their cat, who assists as the hangar’s mouser—has been at the core of Nemesis Air Racing since its beginnings.
“It really started with our little plane that’s sitting [at the Museum] right now,” Jon said, of Nemesis, which is on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.
Nemesis went on to become the most successful aircraft in air racing history. With Jon as pilot, it swept the competition, winning 45 of its 48 contests from 1991 until its retirement in 1999. That’s when Jon and Patricia began to ask themselves what was next.
“It takes off fast, it flies fast, it lands fast! "
The Sharps wanted “to evolve to a higher level of racing,” Jon said, and decided to move into the sport class, still fairly new at the time. In 2000, initial work began on their next ambitious project, the record-breaking Nemesis NXT.
What followed were hand drawings—many, many hand drawings, to be specific. The Sharps went through about 40 different iterations of the design before they settled on the final configuration of the NXT.
From there, it was computer modeling, then testing an NXT scale model in a wind tunnel. Next came putting together the molds for the parts, then fabricating the plane—a process, from start to finish, that took about three years. By 2004, the plane was ready to fly, with Patricia first up behind the controls.
“It’s fast!” Patricia said with a laugh. “It takes off fast, it flies fast, it lands fast! It keeps you alert.”
Describing an aircraft like the NXT as fast might be an understatement. Reaching a top speed of 415.75 mph, Nemesis NXT swept the 2009 National Championship Air Races with five speed records and four consecutive national titles.
After the 2009 championship, the couple had an “inkling” that they were ready to retire from racing. Eventually, Jon voiced it, and Patricia agreed.
“The thing that drove us was we had done everything we wanted to do with that airplane. We waxed everyone for four years in a row, and set records all along the way,” Jon said. “We wanted to finish up on top.”
The Sharps did, setting another four world speed records in 2015, before donating Nemesis NXT to the Museum. Fittingly, the record-breaking plane will be a centerpiece of our upcoming Nation of Speed exhibition, exploring the history of America’s quest for speed, set to open in 2021.
You can meet Jon and Patricia Sharp, The King and Queen of Speed, at our Museum in Washington, DC, on April 26 at 8 p.m. Reserve tickets and find out how you can view the presentation online.