Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Reno Air Races -- Day 1

Reno 13 Sep06087 It was the first day of the National Championship Air Races in Reno (Stead field). You can check out some photos here. This year I am fortunate to be a first time Checkered Flag Club member. They have a great set-up with many conveniences including a great parking area, a hangar to relax and cool off, leave items, eat, and get liquids to stay hydrated in the dry desert heat. I also had a brush with greatness today as I met Paul Poberezny at the club hangar.

There was a lot of activity in the pits today with crews making repairs or final tweaks before qualifying. My favorite plane in the unlimited class, Voodoo race 5, had the cowling off all day. The crew looked awfully busy with the ‘new’ engine. They did qualify at 435 mph. That should be good enough for the gold group.

The big excitement of the day was Rare Bear’s qualifying run. Rare Bear race 77, a modified, WWII era Grumman F8 Bearcat, has won the unlimited gold class many times and has won the last two years. Today, on the second of the two qualifying laps, Ron opened her up and was going all out. Just after making the last turn on the way to the finish line at the home pylon, we all heard two loud, rapid pops from the engine. After crossing the finish, smoke started coming out and you could tell oil was getting into the exhaust. He pulled up to convert the speed into altitude and pulled back on the throttle. That gave enough of a safety margin that he was able to land on the emergency runway. The plane was smoking the whole way. He shut it down rapidly and got towed from the runway back to the pits. Here is a picture of Rare Bear I took early in the day in the pit area. Note the gold stripe on the side of the fuselage. Here is a picture of Rare Rear being towed to the pit after blowing 2 cylinders. A lot of oil on the side covering the stripe! It’s fortunate Ron landed safely and was able to qualify. However, the crew will have a lot of work to do to get back in it.

Also, I heard that one of Rare Bear’s best competitors, Dago Red, was having engine difficulties that caused them problems with qualifying. I saw them doing an extended ground run of the engine early this morning, but they didn’t fly.

I also enjoy watching the T6 class racers. They aren’t as fast as the unlimiteds – only about half the speed. However, the planes are fairly similar so the pilot’s skill has a lot to do with success. Because they are closely matched, there can be some tight races. This picture shows how crowded the start of a race can be. Even after several laps, some of the planes are very close to each other. It’s exciting to watch!

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