If you've been wondering just what this new class is going to be about, wonder no more! Back from the first annual pilot training/qualification, pylon racing seminar held at Reno/Stead Airport and still buzzing from what we saw there, we're ready to share some of the excitement. First and foremost this event was held as an instructional seminar, to ensure SAFE flying by all competitors in all events. The morning instructional sessions were followed by what we really were anxious to see... FLYING!
let's take a look at some of the the airplanes that were there... Looking quite fast were the Lancair entries, including the Lancair IV-P shown above; The beautiful 300hp 2 seat SX-300's; And of course the sleek Glasair's, several models of the Stoddard-Hamilton kits were there, including a Glasair II TD with a very racy paint job shown below. One airplane that caught us by surprise was the little Questair Venture. We were at once intrigued by this very small, "bug-like", creation.... at first dismissing it as merely an odd-duck of an airplane, but when the beautifully painted Questair Venture, N360, fired up the I0-550 hiding under the cowling it sounded like it would be fast, on climbout it sounded even faster....It was. This was a training event and no "actual" racing was going on, but it quickly became apparent, the little Questair is going to be a contender. Notably absent on the ramp was any Rutan designed airplane.
Private airplane development, as far as "showroom" ready airplanes go, simply halted at some point in the distant past. Even with updates and make-overs, what we've seen from the major single developers lately is ....well..... ancient design history. The majority of progress in single engine personal aircraft has been with, what has become, the mainstream of civil aviation today: Kit-Built airplanes. (kits now outsell production singles by better than 3:1!) Cruise speeds in the 300mph range place these airplanes firmly into the seriously fast category. Few production singles even come close to this range of performance.
NASCAR of the Skies?
For years the concept "race on Sunday....Buy on Monday" has fueled the major automobile makers interest in auto racing. This notion has never really been relevant to air racing, until now. What we saw at Reno on Pylon Seminar weekend could well be the birth of a new era in air racing, perhaps the most exciting development in air racing and civil aviation in decades. The idea of taking the "family airplane" racing is surely a unique and exciting idea indeed. Not so different, in concept, than the idea of racing European sedans, or American "big iron" stock cars, but something we've not seen in the context of modern air racing. Representatives were on hand from at least three of the most well known Kit-Plane makers, they are definitely interested in this new race class and what it could mean. Many kits are assembled with the help of "hired guns" as John Parker of American Air Racing puts it. We visited their spotless shop while at Stead, impressive would sum our description of the facility. Also involved in the "facilitator" business is Tom Giertz of Giertz Aviation Services. Tom and company are currently working on the assembly of a Thunder Mustang. AAFO.COM will be following the process of this build very closely in the coming months.
For now, it appears that airplanes with conventional, air cooled, production engines in the 300hp range will dominate the Sport Class. The Falconer V-12 powered Thunder Mustang, when they become available in sufficient numbers, will certainly change this. The Ryan Falconer V-12, in its current form (normally aspirated), produces 640hp. Plans to supercharge the engine, boosting the horsepower to a staggering 1600hp, could well propel the P-51 replica all the way to being competitive in the Unlimited class.
The most exciting thing about this new class is the potential for innovation and what this might bring to the marketplace: Airplanes developed for racing that are also available to purchase and fly. (in kit form, of course:) Engine development will also be an area to watch closely. The automotive big block V-8 might well become an engine that could compete with the best. We spoke with Jeff Ackland, president of Performance Aircraft, (producers of the Legend) he firmly believes that the big V-8's can be made to produce power equal to the more costly Falconer engine...... No question, this new class is set to tear up the sky. Will it become the NASCAR of the wild blue? Too early to tell. Sponsorship of race teams will likely be a key element to this prospect. Getting advertisers to realize the potential for exposure will fall to marketing efforts by the likes of Champion Marketing. This company is aggressively seeking to match sponsors with race teams. An exciting concept proposed by Strega Crew Chief, BIll Kerchenfaut, to extend the races to 25 laps could further the goal of sponsor exposure. (not to mention changing the entire complexion of the race in a very exciting way!) No question, the potential for growth in this class is immense!
The answer to a question we've received several times in the last year (will the Legend be at Reno '98?) landed and whined it's way past where Mark and I were taking a break from the 100+ deg temps that graced this weekend at Reno...... the answer is a very big YES, but not as a race entry. Those of you who attended this year's Sun 'n Fun EAA Fly In probably already know the answer to this one.... The V-8 powered Legend, seen at Reno last year, has undergone a very exciting conversion....Jeff Ackland and the people at Performance Aircraft have hung a 650 hp turboprop on the nose of this already fast airplane! Slated to share pace plane duties with a factory Lancair for this year's Sport Class events, it will be a real head turner!...(there is something sexy about an airplane that can taxi backwards:) trust us..... this is one E-X-C-I-T-I-N-G airplane! (More on this one in a later update!)
The heritage of Air Racing goes back to nearly the beginning of aviation. Give people something that moves....sooner or later someone will race it! For many years Reno has been limited to four "types" of racing airplanes: Formula One; Bi-Plane; T-6; and of course, Unlimited. Propeller driven airplanes made grand advances during the course of World War II, and as such the airplanes of that era have been virtually untouchable for their raw power, speed and smoothness of design. They will, for the foreseeable [near] future, continue this dominance...But there is definitely a new kid on the block... and he is fast... he is innovative... and he's hungry...... Stay tuned!
Story by: Wayne Sagar
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