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Records Fall at Weather-Shortened Reno

By Tim Kern

Thunder Mustang
Photo credit: Danny Busch
George Giboney’s Thunder Mustang, Rapid Travel, cartwheeled after making a dead stick landing during the Gold Super Sport race at Reno. Giboney received minor injuries in the incident.

Reno 2010
Photo by Tim Kern
Race fans line the flightline at Reno 2010.

View the photo gallery

September 22, 2010 — Last week we predicted that “unexpected” may become the watchword for the 2010 edition of the Reno Air Races. How prophetic that turned out to be; from the numerous record runs in qualifying to multiple engine failures and the forced cancellation of Unlimited and T-6 Gold races on Sunday due to unsafe high winds, the 47th Reno was a roller coaster event.

Records were set during qualifying runs for four of the seven classes, including Nick Macy’s T-6, Six-Cat, 244.539 mph; Jeff LaVelle’s Glasair III (Sport Class), at 362.481 -  which was faster than all the Super Sport entries (who were just trying to preserve enough viable airplanes to make a class, holding their fire for Sunday’s race); Curt Brown’s L-29 Delfin, Viper, ran an astounding course record 543.568; and Tom Aberle’s radical Phantom was the fastest biplane ever, breaking his own record with an official 260.805.

Early favorites, rookies, and veterans alike fell by the wayside, with engine failures everywhere: First-day fast Sport David Sterling was out; the lovely GP-5 Super Sport started making metal, as did two-time Unlimited champ Dreadnought; John Parker’s record-setting Blue Thunder II Super Sport started the week with two holes in the block. (Parker’s crew had a spare engine installed and running by Monday night, but all knew he’d have to take it easy until the race.) Six-Cat stopped running. Rookie Vicki Benzing, flying a tribute in the late Vicki Cruse’s Cruse Missile (Glasair III), had to park early. Of course, Kevin Eldredge’s NXT Relentless sat out the race, its firewall emptied of the “Jell-o filled” former powerplant after losing a prop in flight.

As happens a lot in racing, the official fastest qualifiers in each class did win: Steve Senegal, in the David Hoover-built Endeavor, cleaned up in International Formula One, followed by Swiss rookie Vito Wyprachtiger, in Scarlet Screamer. Vito impressed veterans and spectators all week with his consistent and fast flying; and his special wing coating (that breaks the laminar flow of the air, approximating shark skin) attracted increasing attention. Tom Aberle mopped up in Phantom, going faster each year, and clobbering the Pitts-dominated class in the radically-modified Mong racer. Curt Brown’s Viper was so fast, and so well flown in the high winds, that no one could touch him.

Come Sunday, with the wind hitting 20 knots plus gusts, the T-6 Class elected to scrub its Gold race, so Dennis Buehn and Midnight Miss III were declared winners based on having won the last Gold heat race.

LaVelle and his Glasair III had no trouble winning Sport, and moved up to help fill the field in Super Sport, where Mike Dacey’s Questair Venture, Bad Intentions, started first. Dacey was followed by Rapid Travel, George Giboney’s twin-supercharged 900hp Thunder Mustang; John Parker’s normally aspirated TM, Blue Thunder II; and F-100 pilot Lynn Farnsworth, flying his Lancair Legacy, Miss Karen II. They were joined in the Gold race by Lee Behel’s Breathless (a normally aspirated Lancair Legacy) and LaVelle.

When the field ran down onto the course, it was Dacey and Giboney, the tiny Questair and the big Thunder Mustang, Rapid Travel, pulling away. Parker held off everyone else. Though the Sport airplanes had qualified well, they were obviously no match for the real Super Sport machines in an all-out race. Dacey pulled slowly away from Giboney, until the Thunder Mustang’s engine went silent and Giboney pulled up, signaling a Mayday.

Giboney called for winds – 190 at 20; 200 at 20; 220 at 20 – they were nasty, and changing, even as he committed to the runway. He got her down, but went off the side, ran out of runway, bounced, and holed a wingtip. Rapid Travel cartwheeled, tearing off the engine and mount at one end and most of the tail at the other, even as Giboney hunched down into the cockpit. When the wreckage stopped moving, he was helped out of the upright plane and stood on the wing, waving to the horrified crowd that he was OK. Later reports indicated Giboney suffered lacerations to his head and legs.

The Unlimited Gold was slated to run next, but after much talk among the competitors and the Reno Air Racing Association (RARA), the decision was made for safety to not run the race. Because of the logistics of coordinating all the volunteers, safety, and security people, a postponement was impossible. So for the first time in Reno history, no Gold Unlimited race was run; Steve Hinton and Tiger Destefani’s Mustang, Strega, repeated as winners, based on his winning the last Gold heat race. The F8F, Rare Bear, with John Penney at the stick, took second; and owner/pilot Dr. Brent Hisey and his popular P-51, Miss America, claimed third.

Results, though, do not begin to convey the passion of Reno. Imagine the world’s fastest motorsport, the best race pilots, all together for just one week a year. Nowhere else are plane-to-plane fields seen; nowhere else can one even legally practice! Add to that the veterans of decades of racing, plus rookies in nearly every class. Then consider that many of these airplanes are flown pretty much for Reno only; the rest of the time they’re disassembled, waiting for engine upgrades or little aerodynamic aids that will give them an edge for next year, perhaps by only a couple tenths of a mile an hour.

Aerobatic shows, too, add to the excitement of Reno. This year, we were treated to Michael Goulian, Dave Martin, Kent Peich, and the Canadian Snowbirds, among others. Goulian, a Red Bull competitor as well as top air show performer, said it: “When you’re talking about airplanes, especially performance airplanes, you can’t also talk about money.” Or time, or devotion, or focus. While Oshkosh may be the equivalent of the Detroit Auto Show, Reno is the Indianapolis 500. Whether a win was outright or followed by a wind-induced asterisk, it was hard-fought and well-deserved.

Dates for Reno 2011 are September 14-18. Complete race details can be found at the Reno Air Races website.

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