Reno Air Racing: Thunder mustang Update!

RENO '98
"Thunder Mustang"  Update


In hangers and shops around the country the sound of wrenches turning and glare of lights burning far too late into the night, can mean only one thing..... Reno is getting very close! Some teams have their work done and are painting ground equipment, some have their work cut out for them, and some have simply turned out the lights until next year.......

In Nampa, Idaho the lights burn brightly for one dedicated group attempting to bring their dream to Reno '98. That dream is to have a Thunder Mustang race in the inaugural event for the newly formed Sport Class. If you've just stepped into this story, the Thunder Mustang is a 3/4 scale replica of the famous World War II fighter built by Papa 51 LTD. Papa 51 is in the business of fulfilling dreams, those of having an affordable P-51 airplane! Factory prototype #1 did see action at Reno '97 but was lost in a tragic accident earlier this year. Papa 51 also lost a powerful member of the team in the crash of #1. Company pilot and Thunder Mustang enthusiast, Dale Clarke, was flying a passenger on a demo flight, both men lost their lives in the accident. After recovering from the initial shock of their loss, the Papa 51 team has rededicated their efforts to make the dream they shared with their fallen comrade a reality. There were hopes of having #2 ready in time for an Oshkosh showing, but this was not to be. Getting aircraft #2 ready in time for Reno '98 is now the task at hand, and time is short......

"Our goal is to have the #2 Thunder Mustang at Reno and racing." ....Papa 51 spokesman, Charles Denny, tells us... "It is going to be a push, but it is doable. It may go in primer, but the effort is to have it there."

The ever ticking clock becomes the enemy of this project, We spoke with Reno Air Race Pilot, Dave Morss, about the airplane and who would fly it..."I'm told that the plane will be there and that I will be the pilot. There remains several hundred hours work till first flight, but the people at Papa 51 say they can get the job done. I sure hope so, as the only pilot to qualify two kit planes in the unlimited class it would really be nice to fly in the first kit plane race." Morss qualified the Thunder Mustang last year and has also entered a Lancair IV into competition in past years. (neither airplane made the cutoff speed)

Ahh the ever ticking clock... Dave's mention of the hours left sounded pretty dismal....... Just when we were beginning to wonder if they could actually pull off this miracle, a message arrived from Texas Kit-Plane builder, Tom Giertz, late last week that seals the fate of our nemesis.....the clock.... "I am going to Nampa for the next 2 weeks to help Papa-51 with the 2nd prototype. It should be ready for Reno." Tom, who is certainly no stranger to getting projects off the ground, operates Giertz Aviation Services at Houston's Southwest Airport. Currently involved in building another Thunder Mustang at his Texas facility, he is just the man for this project.

Prior to Giertz coming into the picture, we had adjusted to the thought of seeing the Thunder Mustang at Reno in primer, if we saw it at all..... We began to wonder just what color we may eventually see this second flying TM wearing. (well we can hope can't we!). We put the question to a VERY busy, Charles Denny..."The end color scheme for the #2 will be red over white, similar to the prototype's green over white." Hummn.... everyone knows that Red is the fastest color.... fast is good.... faster is better....this is a *good* thing!

Speaking of faster...we asked about when we might see a "pumped" version of the TM....Denny tells us, "There is a good possibility that Falconer will have a supercharged version of his engine at Reno on a stand, but the first Thunder Mustang with it installed and flying will be at Sun 'n Fun next year" .... It remains to be seen just how fast this 3/4 scale Mustang can go. Given enough power, it is conceivable that it could not only dominate the Sport Class, (something it is sure to do, even in the normally aspirated version) it could give a good showing for itself in the Unlimited Class as well. Certainly an exciting picture....

This expected dominance over the Sport Class brought us to this question for the cooperative, but very busy, Denny.... Do you envision a "Thunder Mustang Class" to be born out of all this? "I don't know if they will sanction a complete Thunder Mustang class, though I think in 2-3 yrs. there would be enough to fill a class. With an open class limited to 650 cubic inches it gives way to more diversity and ingenuity"

Our thanks to this busy team for taking the time to share with us the situation at Papa 51. Tom has told us he will attempt to find time to provide us with updates on the progress...we will post updates to this story within this page. Notice of update will be posted on the pages that link to this story..... -Stay Tuned-!

story by: Wayne Sagar
photography: Mark Kallio

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