July.... If I were a kid again this would surely be the
equivalent of having a second Christmas. For those
afflicted with "September Syndrome", this event
was like a dream come true. Air Racing at Reno.....twice
in one year? Well almost, there were race crews and race
pilots and for sure there were race airplanes, but there
would be no racing this weekend. Training for the
September main event was the mission here. But as I
said.... there were AIRPLANES!!!
Feeling much like a kid let loose
in a candy store I set out across the ramp, so many
airplanes so little time. In our last article we talked
of the new Sport Class airplanes, and there were several
of these on hand. But this event was to qualify race
pilots from all classes, this meant there were also Warbirds! Sitting in the middle of the
ramp, wings folded, looking race ready in its bright red
and white paint job, was the newest member of the
Unlimited field....."Riff Raff"! For some time we've been
hearing about this Hawker Sea Fury entry being readied to
enter the fray at Reno. Primary pilot duties are slated
to go to former Astronaut, Robert L. "Hoot"
Gibson, with airplane owner, Mike Keenum, flying as
backup pilot. You could say "Hoot" Gibson is an
experienced aviator....having flown everything from a
formula one racer to the space shuttle. Watching
"Hoot" fly the Orthosport sponsored Riff Raff
racer around the pylons will be a pleasure indeed!
Wally McDonnell, former owner of the massive Hawker, filled us in on a few details of the history of "Riff Raff": Built in 1960 (FAA registration information indicates 1960 as the year of mfg., though we have received information that it may well have been built in 1957) as a fixed-wing model "Fury", this airplane originally flew in the Iraqi Air Force. Brought to America 20 years ago, it passed through several owners before coming under McDonnell's care. Wally wanted a "Sea Fury" with hydraulically controlled folding wings and he set about to achieve this with "Riff Raff". In the fixed wing variant of the Fury the wings are bolted into the flying position but are still manually foldable by removing the locking bolts. The conversion entails adding hydraulics and cylinders to the folding wing bracketry that is included, but unused, in this version. After watching several fold/unfold cycles with this beautiful airplane, we have to agree with Wally that the effort was well worth it...
In its current configuration, "Riff Raff" is powered by an essentially "stock" R3350 26WD radial engine. "Riff Raff" Crew Chief, Jim Skinner, tells us they are going to run a conservative race program..... but..... "We have a few secrets up our sleeves" said a grinning Skinner...... However they run the airplane, full out or in "test" mode, this is one good looking airplane and a welcome addition to the race field of the Worlds Fastest MotorSport!
We're used to seeing the ramp at Stead in September totally filled with fast airplanes and throngs of race fans, this visit in July for the first annual Pylon Training Seminar was quite different. The event is a testament to the Reno Air Race Association and their commitment to safe and exciting racing. Flight operations were open to the public and were well worth the trip to Reno to experience....If you are like many air race fans, gauging your year from September to September... There just may be a new month to put on your schedule.
The stage is set....Air Racing is entering a new era.... More airplanes, more racing..... Stay Tuned!
story and photos by: Wayne Sagar
Special thanks to Gary Williams for background research.