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Reno 2010: Relentless Loses Prop in Flight

By Tim Kern, for EAA Hotline. All rights reserved.

In this incredible photo, the prop is seen at left an right at the instant it came off Kevin Eldredge’s Relentless. Photo by Steve Edmundson
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Relentless prop
Close-up of Relentless’ MT prop. Photo by Tim Kern
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Avionics damage
damage under the engine cowl included the avionics system. Photo by Tim Kern
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What a sudden prop separation at 400 mph can do to an engine. Photo by Tim Kern
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Aberle Phantom
Tom Aberle has won the Reno Biplane Class in his radically-modified Mong Phantom every year but one since its introduction in 2004. Photo by Tim Kern
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September 15, 2010 — “Unexpected” may become the watchword for the 2010 Reno Air Races, especially in the Super Sport Class. Qualifying runs and heat races began Wednesday, September 15, with racing running through Sunday, September 19, at Reno, Nevada’s Stead Airport. The first indication came when John Parker’s Blue Thunder II (Super Sport Class) was spotted last Sunday in the hangar, cowl off, puddles of fluids under her, and the engine half-removed. Then on Tuesday, Kevin Eldredge’s Nemesis NXT Relentless lost its propeller in flight forcing him from the field. With perennial contenders Jon Sharp and Darryl Greenameyer both absent this year, Super Sport looks wide open.  

During his flight last Sunday, Parker unexpectedly achieved “sudden access to the connecting rods through the side of the engine block.” He made a safe landing, got back to his hangar (Parker’s operation is based at Stead) and by Monday night his crew had installed a new engine. Well, not actually new – it was the same powerplant with which he set a world 100km speed record for Class C1c record at June’s Golden West Fly-In, and later powered the airplane to AirVenture Oshkosh.

A buzz and a pop…and it was over
“I’m not entirely sure what happened,” Eldredge said of Tuesday’s incident that ended his week prematurely. He was waiting in the queue for George Giboney’s modified Thunder Mustang Rapid Travel to finish qualifying then took the course. “I completed my level lap and had it honkin’ pretty good,” Eldredge wrote in his blog. He was going to try and break Jon Sharp’s 412 mph record set in 2009 and when his ground speed indicated 360 kts (414 mph), “I called for the clock.”

Eldredge explained further: “I remember looking the instruments over right about pylon 8 and everything was in the green. Just as I started to roll slightly to the left to set my nose on just the right angle to start my qualifying lap I heard the most unbelievable squeal and then POP! I knew right away that the prop had left the party but the big question was what was going to happen next?”

He pulled up at over 400 mph, saying that the drag on the hole where the prop used to be slowed him down like a chute. Downwind for runway 14 and pushing hard to keep 140 knots, he described the airplane maneuvering “like a 180 autorotation in my helicopter!”

Eldredge managed a smooth-but-fast dead-stick touchdown but as the plane slowed to a stop, smoke started pouring out of the cowl profusely. The smell told him resin was burning.

“I jumped out with my pathetic little extinguisher to try and put out the fire that was now coming out of the cowling intakes like a pissed-off dragon, but the fire guys got there first and it only took about three seconds of their water cannon to calm even me down,” he wrote.

Eldredge’s early exit leaves Parker, Giboney,Mike Dacy (Bad Attitude, Questair Venture), and Lynn Farnsworth (Miss Karen II, Lancair Legacy) as the only four Super Sport planes in the field although another classmate that had to drop out of the running is creating all sorts of buzz at Reno this year.

Sweet Dreams
It’s an all-new airplane from a well-known designer. The Sweet Dreams GP-5 (that’s right, 5) s the product of 15 years of work, interrupted for more than a decade, of designer George Periera and builder George Backovich. The sleek, new wood construction airplane is powered by a 460-ci small-block Chevy V-8. Plans were for Lee Behel to fly it in the Super Sport Class (he’s also flying his Lancair, Breathless, in the Sport Class, as well as a jet). But in Tuesday’s practice, Sweet Dreams, which went a touch over 320 mph pulling only 5100 rpm, developed an oil leak up front. It turns out the prop governor was brand-new and needed some “calibration” that will allow 5500 rpm race speeds. The subsequent decision was made to not race the airplane this year. (See accompanying story.)

Other previews

  • Early Sport Class qualifying put David Sterling’s 345-mph Lancair Legacy two-tenths of a second ahead of Behel, and those two are miles ahead of the other in-class qualifiers for now, but that could change rapidly as others qualify.
  • In the Jet Class, Joe Gano’s L-39 Albatros, Pip Squeak, qualified at 507 mph and looked really fast…until last year’s winner, Curt Brown, went 543 in his L-29 Delfin, Viper - a new jet and course record eclipsing his 2009 run by about 5 mph! New to the class (and to Reno) - also in an L-29 - is Heather Penney, daughter of Unlimited ace and Rare Bear pilot John Penney. Heather is an F-16 pilot with two tours in Iraq behind her. L-39s and L-29s that make up the backbone of the class include a Vampire, a Provost, and an Iskra.
  • The T-6 class, while nominally stock warbirds, has developed over years into two subsets: the really fast crowd, and the rest. Usually, the list of potential winners includes past winners, but this year, only two past winners entered: Six-Cat, Nick Macy’s five-time and defending champ, did not qualify early, leaving 2007 champ, Dennis Buehn, and Midnight Miss III, early leaders, at 236 mph.
  • International Formula One has seen the return of veteran Holbrook Maslen (the Wagner named Judy), and some new airplanes, plus a couple of new pilots. One of them, Vito Wypraechtiger of Switzerland, flying Gary Davis’s Scarlet Screamer, surprised everyone but himself by qualifying at 242 mph, in third spot behind to previous winners, 2007-08 winner Endeavor (with 2008 winner Steve Senegal) and Phil Goforth in last year’s winner, Invictus. In addition to the crowd of Cassuts are Judy; the GR-7, Madness; a Strocaster called Knotty Girl Tribute, and David Hoover’s design, Endeavor.
  • The Biplane Class is again dominated by Tom Aberle and his radically-modified Mong, Phantom. This aircraft has won its class every year but 2007 since its introduction in 2004, and Aberle wasted no time in nailing down the pole at a new record pace, 261.7 mph. The odds-on favorite to repeat, Aberle’s speed was over 50 mph ahead of the second-fastest early qualifier, with some fast bipes still off the chart - 2007 winner, Miss Gianna, with former champ Jeff Lo among them. All the biplanes other than Aberle’s are Pitts designs, with varying degrees of what racers call, “stockness.” Read more about Phantom in this Experimenter article.
  • The Unlimited Class, composed of stock and highly-modified WWII warbirds, is quite unusual this year, with two rare F7F-3 Tiger Cats, a F4U-4 Corsair, a P-40, two Yak 3s, a Mustang P-51A, a T-28 (that qualified over 300 mph!), and a restored FW-190 doing battle with the F8F Bearcat, P-51Ds and Sea Furies that usually dominate the class. This class contains some of the most-famous airplanes in the world: Rare Bear, Strega, Voodoo, Dreadnought, Galloping Ghost, Miss America, Steadfast, and many others. Steve Hinton and Strega are tentatively on the pole, at 464 mph, with Will Whiteside and Voodoo 5 mph back; John Penney and Rare Bear, plus Matt Jackson in Dreadnought, (both machines are former multiple winners) are currently sitting 3rd and 4th places, with Brent Hisey and Miss America in 5th.

With the air show performances to be headlined by the Canadian Snowbirds and the static display already populated by the first of what promises to be several P-38s, plus antiques, rare cars, and novel airplanes, the 47th running of the Reno Air Races should be another great reason to enjoy experimental aviation.

So, what’s going to happen this year? For now, let’s say it’s going to be “unpredictable.” That’s code for “exciting!”

The heat races started on Wednesday; trophy races begin Friday, with the big-class Gold finals on Sunday. For more information including all results, visit Reno’s official website.

From the archives: Read EAA’s December 2004 cover story on the Reno National Air Races by clicking here.

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