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Replica Golden Age Racer Makes First Flight

Golden Age racer
Tom Wathen stands beside the sleek racing aircraft at Flabob Airport.

Golden Age racer
The replica Avions Caudron C.460 French Racer.

January 29, 2009 — Thanks to the vision and resources of EAA President’s Council member Tom Wathen and the talents of Mark Lightsey and his colleagues at Aerocraftsman, Inc., on Flabob Airport in Riverside, California, one more incredible replica of a Golden Age racer has taken to the skies; an Avions Caudron C.460. The replica flew for the first time on Wednesday, January 28, with Lightsey at the controls. “Obviously a plane with only 50 minutes on it is far from proven, but it flew fine,” he reported. “Not stable, but very solid and controllable. With the landing gear down and the power at 27” and 2700 rpm, it was cruising around the Flabob pattern at 165 mph.”

By the end of Labor Day weekend in 1936, a single blue French racer had the American pilots gnashing their teeth as they competed in the National Air Races in Los Angeles, California.

As sleek as a barracuda and blazingly fast, the Avions Caudron C.460 had beaten America’s best aircraft in both the Greve trophy race for inline engine racers (with a speed of 247.3 mph), and the event that culminated the races that weekend, the free-for-all race for the Thompson Trophy. Michel Detroyat beat all comers including Earl Ortman and Harold Neumann with an average speed of 268 mph over the closed-course race. It would be the only time a foreign pilot and aircraft would win the top event at the NAR.

Faithful in size and design in every respect except for the engine (a Fairchild Ranger is under the cowl, doing excellent stand-in work for the original 6-cylinder Renault Bengali) the C.460 is finished in glossy French racing blue.

Some of the young people who helped build the replica are recent graduates of the Wathen Aviation High School. The project follows in the footsteps of the other replica racer projects to come from the fertile grounds of Flabob, including the construction of replicas of the Miles and Atwood Special; the Brown B-2 racer Miss Los Angeles; Gee Bee Z City of Springfield; Laird-Turner Special; and the DeHavilland Comet racer. All were built and flown from the airport, with notable aviation talents the late Bill Turner and Ed Marquart having a major part in their creation.

Plans are being finalized for the Caudron replica to be transported to Europe for this summer’s flying season, including appearances in France at the Paris Air Show and at the Geneva Classics event in October. Since the airplane will be out of the country, it will not be at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, but plans are being made to have the racer at the annual EAA convention in 2010.

If you’re in the Los Angeles area for the next few weeks as the test flights are made, you may just catch a glimpse of what it must have been like to be at the National Air Races in 1936. Or you can watch a video of the Caudron’s first flight on YouTube.

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